Reid proposes minimum terms in sentencing reform

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Jail sentences such as "10 years to life" - already familiar to viewers of American courtroom dramas - could soon be handed down on this side of Atlantic.

Plans for a radical "repackaging" of sentences, to make them easier to understand and to rebuild public confidence in their effectiveness, were set out by the Home Office yesterday.

Judges could set out a minimum and maximum period for which an offender would be imprisoned in an effort to indicate exactly how long a serious offender would spend behind bars.

Criminals would only be eligible for release - and then under strict supervision - once they had served a minimum term and would only be freed if parole boards were confident of rehabilitation. If they reoffended, they would face serving the full sentence.

The plan follows the outcry over the paedophile Craig Sweeney, who learnt he could be freed after five years despite receiving a life sentence for kidnap and sexual assault. It was set out in a package of Home Office proposals for restoring faith in sentencing. The department is also suggesting sentences in which courts would stipulate the shortest period that an offender would spend in jail, as well as the shortest period of community punishment.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, said: "We need to strengthen judges' hands so they have greater discretion to impose even tougher sentences on offenders they believe pose a very serious risk."

In other proposals, judges could impose "additional years" on dangerous offenders to reflect "public confidence issues".