Clarke places new controls on offenders after release

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The Independent Online

Dangerous criminals are to face stringent new restrictions when they leave jail and could be included on a national register under plans unveiled by the Home Secretary.

Charles Clarke said the "violent offender orders" that could be imposed for life were needed to prevent cases such as the murder of the banker John Monckton, whose killer Damien Hanson was on probation.

But the Conservatives attacked the proposals as an exercise in headline-grabbing. They mocked the proposed new orders as "super-Asbos" that would not replace keeping dangerous offenders in jail. Probation officers said only a tiny number of serious offenders, less than 1 per cent of the 44,600 released every year, committed further serious crimes.

Under the proposals, to be outlined in detail in the summer, police will be able to apply for restrictions on violent prisoners who are still assessed as dangerous at the end of their sentence.

Freed offenders could face bans on visiting certain areas, sports grounds and pubs or even curbs on their drinking. But the orders will not include blanket restrictions such as curfews. Breaking an order would lead to sentences of up to five years. They would apply to prisoners who had served their jail terms but were still considered to be a threat.

It would be the first time probation conditions have been imposed on offenders who have served their full sentences and are technically free.

Mr Clarke said the proposals for former prisoners was modelled on the national register of sex offenders. The Home Secretary warned there was a "serious weakness" in the system. "At the moment there is no power of the court, probation service or anyone else to supervise and control these people who are dangerous or thought to be, until they commit another crime. That is a serious weakness in the system."

He added: "Can I stop murders happening? Well, actually I can't."

But Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, warned that the new orders would not prevent violent criminals striking again and could make the problem worse by diverting probation officers from monitoring high-risk prisoners.

He said: "It's difficult to see how one of these orders will prevent serious crimes, which thankfully are fairly rare. The super-Asbos will make no difference; the only thing that could be done is to place people on 24-hour surveillance."

Home Office figures show that about 380 of the 44,592 offenders convicted of violent or sexual offences in 2005 went on to commit a further serious crime. Of the 12,700 in the highest categories of offence there were 79 people convicted of another violent or sexual offence in 2005.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said that the measures were designed to grab the headlines ahead of a report due next month on the case of Anthony Rice, a convicted rapist who strangled and stabbed a woman in Winchester nine months after he was released on licence 16 years into a life sentence.

Mr Davis said: "A criminal who is willing to murder, who is willing to commit armed robbery, who is willing to commit burglary, is not going to be put off by some sort of super-Asbo.

"If 42 per cent of Asbos are ignored by young tearaways, what will the effectiveness of these so-called super-Asbos be against psychopathic hardened criminals? If the Government cannot make the sex offenders' register work properly, how safe should the public feel after this latest headline-grabbing initiative?"

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the pressure group Liberty, said: "We are sceptical about the value of another new-fangled order, but we will look at the detail."

Bobby Cummines, 54: 'Probation officer changed my life'

Bobby Cummines was involved in gang fights in north London as a teenager. He quickly progressed to armed robbery and was sentenced to 20 years for a series of raids.

He said: "At first when I went to prison I had no intention of going straight, I was going to go straight back to crime and hit security vans.

"But while I was in Maidstone prison I met a probation officer and an ex-major who was the prison education officer.

"These people showed me kindness and taught me that there was an alternative. They told me about their lives and I thought I wanted some of that. My world was a nightmare world. Whereas they went to bed with dreams, I used to go to bed with a gun under my pillow. They opened my eyes and taught me to respect myself and others.

"Everyone who is involved in serious violence can benefit enormously from a probation officer who offers them support."

Mr Cummines was released from prison in 1984 has become the chief executive of a charity for ex-offenders called Unlock.

Bob Turney, 60: 'It's about protecting the public'

Bob Turney was a serial burglar and had attacked police officers, but his life was turned around in jail. Today he is a probation officer in Reading.

He said: "I was in and out of prison for 18 years. I became institutionalised, I started depending on the system and couldn't cope outside. It was a probation officer who helped turn my life around. She really started to confront me and challenged me about my drug-taking and alcoholism. She was the only stable influence in my life.

"Before that, I was not a very nice person. After I left prison in 1989 I was inspired by her work.

"Today I'm a probation officer, author and public speaker. I'm also married, I've had five kids, two grandchildren and have a lovely circle of friends.

"Probation has changed. The ethos is about protecting the public but what is missing is the relationship between the probation officer and the offender."

Anti-crime initiatives under fire

Parenting Orders

Introduced in 1998, the orders can force parents to attend classes on parenting skills. So far, only 1,425 of these orders have been used after eight years.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

Ministers intended that 5,000 Asbos would be issued every year, but 7,000 have been imposed since 1999. Nearly half are breached, which critics say threatens to criminalise children who break them.

Fixed Penalty Notices

Offenders are fined between £30 and £80, with the amount increasing by 50 per cent if they fail to pay within three weeks. More than 50,000 were issued in 2004, most for drunken behaviour or harassment. The Government says it nips yobbery in the bud. Opponents say it allows the better-off to pay their way out of trouble.

Child Curfews

Three years ago, local authorities, with police, were given the power to stop under-16s from being out alone at night. Not one curfew is in place.

Dispersal Orders

Police can disperse groups of two or more under-16s in certain areasdesignated as centres of disorder. But the Home Office lost a High Court case brought by a boy of 15 who said it breached his human rights.

Night Courts

Were initially seen as a way of speeding the criminal justice system, but were dropped when a £5m pilot project threw up a host of problems.