Howard defends 'get tough' policy on crime: Minister says judges' criticisms based on misunderstanding of his comments

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HOWARD, the Home Secretary, yesterday defended his 'get tough' policy on crime against increasing criticism by judges and penal law reformers who say that putting more people into prison does not work.

''What we can do now is to improve our system to make it easier for the police to catch criminals, to make it easier for the courts to convict the guilty,' he said.

Mr Howard said that subsequent comments by judges and others were based on a misunderstanding of remarks he made at the Tory party conference in Blackpool.

He said: 'A recent survey showed that if burglars were imprisoned for a year rather than not sent to prison, between three and 13 crimes per burglar would be prevented. That's between three and 13 fewer victims per burglar.

'If we are concerned about the protection of the public, you cannot simply put to one side the extent to which the public are protected while people are in prison.'

Mr Howard told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: 'If you are concerned about re-convicting . . . then the statistics don't really demonstrate that those who have been in prison re-offend to a greater extent than those who have not been sent to prison.'

Mr Howard announced a law and order package at the conference to clamp down on young offenders and send more criminals to jail.

Last week he was criticised by Lord Woolf, the Law Lord who conducted the inquiry into the Strangeways riots, who called Mr Howard's policies 'shortsighted and irresponsible' and that prison was a 'shocking waste of resources'.

Since then, judges, former judges, prison officers' leaders and barristers have questioned whether Mr Howard has got it right. Senior judges were quoted in yesterday's Observer as saying that increased prison sentences were not the solution for the problem of rising crime.

Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said last night that critics had not misunderstood Mr Howard. 'The Government's view that the only way to fight crime is an ever-increasing prison population ignores the fundamental importance of crime prevention and crime's underlying causes. That is why we need both punishment and prevention,' he said.

The debate should not be polarised in a false choice between strengthening the criminal justice system and dealing with the causes of crime, Mr Blair said.

Mr Howard accepted the Government had not 'cracked' criminality. 'I don't pretend to have provided all the answers or to have found the answers . . . What we can do, now, is to improve our system.

'We are concerned about vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. If we don't want that to happen we must make sure we have a system of criminal justice in which the public has confidence.'

Leading article, page 13

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