A far-reaching overhaul of the prison and probation system is due to be announced today by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary.
Following the development of new sentences served partly in custody and partly in the community, Mr Blunkett is preparing to approve the merger of the two services at national and regional levels.
In response to the deaths in custody last year of 94 inmates, including a record 14 women, Mr Blunkett will also promise a fresh drive to tackle the problem of prison suicides. In future, all deaths in jail will be investigated by the prisons ombudsman, rather than prison governors.
Today's shake-up will pave the way to creating an overall correctional service for offenders. It will lead to savings, and possible redundancies, but ministers will argue it is the logical conclusion to the closer ties that have developed between the two services as more offenders are released into the community under the new sentences.
The electronic tagging and tracking for persistent minor offenders is likely to be extended, with more low-risk offenders forced to pay fines instead of serving custodial sentences.
The shake-up follows a review of the prison and probation services by the government troubleshooter Patrick Carter. The Independent revealed last year that Mr Carter backed a change in direction of government policy on law and order. He said jail should be reserved for the most serious and dangerous offenders, and warned that the Criminal Justice Act, which has just reached the statute book, would only drive up prison numbers.
¿ The Prison Officers' Association is threatening a 24-hour UK-wide strike in protest at security arrangements for its members in Northern Ireland. It said the last chance of averting action was a meeting with Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, on 14 January.
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