Criminals to face tougher punishment: Failure to get job could put some wrongdoers in prison, while others unlock their cells and go to work. Heather Mills reports

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The Independent Online
CRIMINALS will have to find jobs as part of the conditions of parole, under government proposals to toughen up community sentences. Failure to obtain employment without good reason may mean they will end up in custody.

The move will be announced shortly in a Green Paper, coupled with plans to make community punishments more physically rigorous. At a private seminar last week for invited industrialists, sportsmen and criminal justice professionals, David Maclean, the Home Office minister, made it clear he wanted to see offenders 'wet, tired and miserable' at the end of the day.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is expected to flag the Green Paper on community penalties in his speech to the Conservative party faithful today. It will be one of several measures - including new drugs initiatives, harsher prison regimes, more crime-busting partnership initiatives, and the possible introduction of identity cards - in an attempt to restore his law and order credentials at the end of a bruising year.

The discovery of Semtex and a gun in Whitemoor prison, delays in delivering the 27 pledges he made at last year's conference, and the fact that he has alienated all sections of the criminal justice system, including the police, have caused some local Conservative chairmen and women to question his Home Office performance.

The Green Paper, which will also introduce work like litter- picking or cleaning graffiti for child offenders as young as 10, will make magistrates responsible for setting community penalties - rather than probation officers.

Ministers have apparently been looking to the United States where finding employment is a condition of parole. Despite high levels of unemployment in the UK, ministers have been advised that there is work available, although mostly menial. Mr Howard is convinced that if offenders are at work all day, they cannot commit further crime.

Yesterday Harry Fletcher, of the National Association for Probation Officers said: 'The notion of compulsory job-hunting is a complete illusion.'

Last year 106,500 offenders were given community-based penalties - probation orders, community service orders and supervision orders for offenders aged 10 to 17. The Green Paper will be coupled with proposals to change fundamentally the social work ethos of the probation service.

Ministers are now considering abolishing the requirement for a social work qualification, instead suggesting 'on-the-job' training with a Diploma in Probation Services qualification at the end of it.

Mr Maclean has made it clear he would like to see the probation service drawing from a wider field, particularly former service personnel, and this would pave the way for their recruitment.

However, the move appears to contradict studies, including one from the Industrial Society, which concluded that social work training methods were effective.

Mr Fletcher said: 'Despite all the evidence, ministers are determined to wreck the training base of probation officers which will result in lower standards and more not less offending.'

A 15-year-old boy being held on remand at the privately run Doncaster prison was stabbed with a needle used by drug addicts and is awaiting the results of a blood test, his family and lawyer say.

In an earlier attack, the boy - who is accused of theft and burglary - claimed he was dragged into a cell by three older inmates who beat and burnt him and slashed his arm with a razor. His family believe he may be a suicide risk, and the boy's lawyer will ask a judge to grant him bail.

'Doncaster prison is largely out of control,' Jonathan Bennett, the boy's lawyer, said yesterday. 'Putting a 15-year-old boy in that sort of environment is a recipe for disaster.'

Doncaster prison, which opened in June, is operated jointly by two Florida companies, Serco and Wackenhut. Their contract stipulates that juveniles, young offenders and adults are held separately.

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