Is the criminal justice system fair?

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Shami Chakrabarti Director of Liberty

"Before you decide whether the system is fit for purpose you have to decide what that purpose is. In this country there is too much pressure on the criminal justice system because it is supposed to solve society's ills. But it is not the answer to everything; it can't be used to cope with the mentally ill, the homeless and problem teenagers. That's not what it is designed for; it can never be fit for that purpose. Politicians have created a panic about crime so the public now fear there won't be enough space in prison for all the people who are guilty of offences. They have trapped themselves in a debate where they tell the public there is nothing wrong with the system, then enact more criminal laws to change it."

Jackie Worrall Director of policy, Nacro, crime reduction charity

"We have been warning for a long time that the increasingly punitive approach to criminal justice would push the prison population to unmanageable levels and put at risk constructive regimes. The Government must reverse the over-use of custodial sentences and order courts to exercise restraint in the use of imprisonment for less serious offenders and those on remand."

John Denham Chairman, Commons home affairs committee

"The central challenge is to rebuild public confidence in community sentencing, with sentences that are more visible, and sentencing that more accurately reflects the evidence on what reduces reoffending. There has been far too little emphasis about getting people into a work-type environment in prison, helping them make the transition into work in the outside world."

Nick Clegg Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman

"The criminal justice system has been overburdened by relentless tough rhetoric and unprecedented legislative hyperactivity. The result is heightened public fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, the highest levels of mass incarceration in Western Europe, the demonisation of young people, a simplistic reliance on crude instruments of control, and one of the Western world's highest rates of repeat crime."

Edward Garnier Shadow Prisons Minister

"Prisons have a proper purpose within the criminal justice system but the Government has so managed our prisons that they cannot do what they are required to do. There are fewer prison places available, so while we can lock people up we can't rehabilitate them, get them off drugs, teach them how to read and write, how to accept responsibility for his crimes and the victims of them, or get them to a state of readiness for life back in society."

Frances Crook Director, Howard League for Penal Reform

"It isn't fit for purpose because of the concentration on ineffective responses such as prison. I would like to see the Home Secretary try some community service - he would learn there are some really good schemes helping people to change their behaviour and help the community."

Juliet Lyon Director of the Prison Reform Trust

"It makes no sense to expect overcrowded jails to cut crime when the solutions lie outside, in better parental supervision, constructive alternatives for the young, mental health care, treatment for those addicted to drugs and drink, and a reduction in homelessness, poverty and unemployment."