Parties vie to be toughest on law and order

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Indy Politics

Tough crime-cutting measures will be announced by the three main political parties tomorrow as they go head-to-head for the mantle of the party of law and order.

Tough crime-cutting measures will be announced by the three main political parties tomorrow as they go head-to-head for the mantle of the party of law and order.

The Prime Minister will announce a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system with extra prison places, tougher sentences for hard-core offenders, and a requirement for judges to track people they convict so as to monitor their rehabilitation. There are also likely to be far-reaching reforms of the police force.

Launching his 10-year national crime plan, which comes on the back of research showing that people in the UK are more likely to be victims of crime than those in most other industrialised countries, Mr Blair will also become the first serving premier to visit a jail.

The national crime plan will focus on tackling 100,000 repeat offenders who are believed to be responsible for half of Britain's crime. This hard-core element is thought to be made up of mostly young people, drug addicts, those without qualifications, and those unemployed. Trying to break crime cycles through rehabilitation, longer sentences and monitoring of offenders, will be central to Labour's crime policy if the party is re-elected to power.

Among the initiatives will be attempts to recruit and retain more police officers. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, is understood to be considering introducing "super bobbies", beat officers with special responsibilities in local areas. A return to street duties has traditionally been seen as a demotion in the forces, but Mr Straw is looking to enhance the role of community police. Extra pay may be an incentive.

But the Conservatives are determined to fight back as the party of law and order. William Hague, and the Shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe, will mount a "major rebuttal campaign" with a point-by-point plan on how the Tories would out-tough Labour on crime next time round. The "positioning statement" to be launched at a London press conference will deal with the Conservative agenda on courts, sentencing and prisons, and is expected to signal tougher penalties for offenders, with more support for victims of crime.

The Liberal Democrats are also muscling in on the crime issue: their home affairs spokesman, Simon Hughes, will emphasise tomorrow that the Lib Dems intend to increase police numbers by 8,000 - 2,000 more than Labour - and create a new college sponsorship scheme for police recruits. The party also wants 2,000 part-time, paid community officers.

Mr Hughes called for extra victim support, and increased prison wages, including money on release to help with resettlement. There should be more community sentences, particularly for offenders with mental health problems, and drug and alcohol addictions, he said.

Among other Lib Dem proposals are an increase in compensation to £10,000 for families who lose children as victims of crime, and tougher sentences for people who perpetrate "hate crimes" motivated by race, religion or sexuality.

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