The Home Secretary said a series of "community prisons" would be created for less serious offenders to help them be nearer to friends and family and make it easier to go straight after release.
However, he sidestepped the issue of how many criminals should be locked up, fuelling speculation that he has scrapped the ambition of his predecessor, David Blunkett, to set an 80,000 ceiling on the numbers of people in jail. The prison population currently stands at a record 77,000 and is rising rapidly.
In his first major speech as Home Secretary on penal policy, he said: "I want to focus on the number of re-offenders and on getting that number down so as to cut crime."
He said local community prisons, which would be developed within existing jails, would allow individuals to "maintain family and community ties and have the ability to provide excellent support and interventions".
He said: "An offender is much less likely to reoffend if he feels part of a family and community, from which he receives support as well as owes obligations."
Mr Clarke also said remand prisoners should, where possible, be held separately from sentenced offenders, whether in separate prisons or in remand wings.
He said: "The least educated and least healthy people in the country remain those within the criminal justice system. And their poor education and health does not only damage them. It makes them more likely to reoffend and they are a greater danger to society than they need to be."Reuse content