New rules will allow greater use of isolation cells to punish prisoners who break rules; there will be greater restrictions on home leave; troublemakers will end up serving longer jail terms; and drug-testing will be introduced.
Underlining his message that prisons should be 'austere places', Mr Howard said they 'must not be places where prisoners enjoy excellent facilities and simply while away their time at leisure'. He told the Prison Service conference in Blackpool: 'Prison should combine decent conditions with hard work and discipline. Privileges should be given and taken away in accordance with . . . behaviour, and misconduct . . . should be punished.'
Mr Howard made only passing reference to prison overcrowding, saying he realised 'the prison system is not made of rubber with infinite capacity for expansion'.
And in the face of widespread criticism from judges, lawyers and prison governors who have questioned his tough law and order policy, he said: 'I do not agree with those who say prison does not deter. Obviously it does not deter everyone. But it seems to me equally obvious that it deters some. And that is something we should never ignore.'
But Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, said later: 'To insist that . . . simply by increasing the prison population, crime will be cut is contradicted by the fact that there has been the largest single rise in prison population since the war . . . and yet communities are still hit savagely by crime.'
Reaction at the conference to Mr Howard's speech was also subdued. Joe Whitty, governor of Feltham young offenders' institution in south-west London, was applauded when he suggested to the Home Secretary that some were 'rather decent kids . . . who are victims of social circumstances'.
Brendan O'Friel, chairman of the Prison Governors' Association, said the Home Secretary had been 'extremely simplistic' in his call for tougher prison regimes. And Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: 'The Home Secretary seems determined to follow the path of penal disaster.'
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