Lib Dems get tough on crime with 'life means life' policy

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The Liberal Democrats have proposed that prisoners given life sentences should stay in jail for the rest of their life.

Sir Menzies Campbell yesterday unveiled a policy balancing a tough approach for the most serious offences with plans to reduce the record 80,000 prison population by ensuring that those guilty of relatively minor offences did "tough" community work. To cut reoffending rates, prisoners would be found "real jobs".

The Lib Demleader said the average life sentence under Labour was only 11 years, with thousands of offenders serving less than half their sentences and 53 "lifers" released since 2000.

"Sentences should mean what they say. Life will mean life: only those that judges believe should stay in prison will be given a life sentence. And nobody will be released earlier than the minimum term they are given," he said. That would mean ending life terms for some serious crimes, he said. "A liberal approach to crime is an honest approach to crime," Sir Menzies said. "It is based on what works rather than what sounds good."

Other elements of his package include: scrapping plans for a national identity card to pay for more police; making it easier to close down pubs and "making prison work" through compulsory education and fairer compensation for victims.

The Liberal Democrats' "We Can Cut Crime" campaign will be at their heart of the party's efforts at the local elections in May.

The British Crime Survey recorded 11,016,000 offences against adults living in households in England and Wales in the year to June 2006. Lib Dem research says that including crimes against children and businesses would increase that to about 33 million.

Edward Garnier, the Tory spokesman on prisons, said: "Once again, the Liberal Democrats show that they are soft on crime."