Labour's plans for criminals 'unworkable'

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The Independent Online

Labour's plans to merge the prison and probation services have been heavily criticised civil servants, who warn that there is a high risk that it could lead to cases being inadequately supervised.

Labour's plans to merge the prison and probation services have been heavily criticised civil servants, who warn that there is a high risk that it could lead to cases being inadequately supervised.

The proposal to create a new National Offender Management Service, in charge of prisons and of community punishment, is a key part of Labour's strategy for crime reduction. The manifesto, launched by Tony Blair last week, promised that Noms would "ensure that every offender is individually case managed from beginning to end of their sentence, both in and out of custody".

But the Noms business plan includes stark warnings that the proposal could lead to "overload" of the court system, according to today's Observer. A Home Office report, leaked to the newspaper, warns that there is a high risk of "inadequate supervision of cases leading to unmanageable policy making".

It also warns against a "loss of key skills" from frontline staff, which could result in "inadequate supervision of dangerous offenders." The scheme has also been hit by a computer problem similar to those which have dogged other parts of the Home Office, such as the Passport Office and Immigration Service.

The document complains of a "failure to deliver' by the new computer system, which is supposed to link the prison and probation services.

Labour's plans for an American-style correction system, including electronic tagging of prisoners released on parole, are expected to take centre stage in the general election campaign soon.

The Tories accuse the government of being too keen to save money by reducing the prison population.

They say they will increase the capacity of the prisons to take in an extra 20,000 convicted criminals, enabling them to end the early release scheme.

Michael Howard's most famous pronouncement when he was home secretary was that "prison works".

But the Liberal Democrats, in their manifesto published last week, implied that the prison population is already too high. They promised to make more non-violent criminals, such as fine-defaulters, shoplifters and petty criminals, do "tough community work" as an alternative to prison.