Straw's red card system attacked

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The Independent Online
THE INFLUENCE of footballing terminology on all areas of British life continued apace when the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced that "red and yellow cards" are to be shown to offenders who breach their community sentences.

Probation staff said the idea was a "cheap novelty" that would not be taken seriously by offenders.

Under the system, the Home Office will send a yellow warning on yellow paper to offenders who fail to meet the requirements of their licence. A second failure will lead to a final warning, sent on a piece of red paper.

Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said yesterday: "The supervision of offences is a serious business, not a game. Sending out pieces of novelty paper is not the answer to non-compliance."

The announcement comes at a time when footballers such as Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit are making cameo appearances in popular television programmes including The Bill and government ministers feel obliged to stress publicly their football-supporting credentials.

As the Chancellor's adviser, Charlie Whelan, stepped down this week - to take up a job writing a football column - he boasted that one of his finest achievements had been to help bring about the downfall of the former Coventry City manager, Ron Atkinson, after a conversation with Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster-general.

Mr Straw, who is a Blackburn Rovers fan, said yesterday: "[The red-card system] has a strong visual impact on offenders, is easy to understand and reinforces the message that penalties will result from non-compliance."

The National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation Offenders said that the red- card plan was a marginally better idea than the American baseball-inspired concept of "three strikes and you're out".

But Mr Fletcher questioned the footballing knowledge of Home Office officials, saying that red and yellow cards were now so commonplace in football, that they were debased as an instrument of punishment and that they would not scare offenders.