Howard hits back at critics of jail policy

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MICHAEL HOWARD yesterday launched a strong defence of his prison policy, accusing his critics of misrepresentation and emphasising public support for tougher punishments.

But in his speech to Conservatives in Humberside, the Home Secretary went out of his way to acknowledge alternatives to custody, such as cautioning and punishment in the community. He denied he had said that prison was 'the only thing which works'.

During that speech - and in another yesterday in Salford, Greater Manchester - Mr Howard also emphasised his commitment to crime prevention.

Judges, lawyers and penal reform groups have attacked Mr Howard for his 'prison works' speech to the Conservative Party conference which promised '27 points to beat crime'.

'The public want a tough, comprehensive approach to tackling crime. I'm providing it,' Mr Howard said yesterday. 'I believe punishment deters crime.'

Some magistrates and judges agreed with him since the number of convicted prisoners had begun to rise. 'That is not a response to my party conference speech. More likely it is a reaction by the judiciary to the strength of public opinion about rising crime and a recognition of the value of punishment.'

More than 900 inmates were locked in their cells yesterday as the Scottish Prison Officers Association took strike action for the first time as part of the civil service stoppage in protest at privatisation and market testing. Prison officers in England and Wales began an overtime ban in protest at privatisation and overcrowding.