Punitive approach to crime 'will not work': Vengeance likely to breed more violence, leading reformer says

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THE Government's punitive approach to rising crime will not prevent offending and is likely to make society more violent and less safe, a leading penal reformer argues today.

Vivien Stern, director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, says in its annual report, published today, that if 'vengeance and harsh punishment' become the prevailing values of criminal justice, they will become the values of society in general.

Her comments will continue the fierce debate about the 'prison works' philosophy of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and his tough stand on crime outlined at the Conservative Party conference.

Ms Stern says: 'Increasing the scope and use of the criminal law, making the courts more repressive, the penal sanctions more severe, the safeguards weaker, will not strengthen society's capacity to deal with disorder.'

The roots of the problems did not lie in sanctions that were too weak or in the criminal justice system at all, she said. They existed because society was heading towards excluding a large group of citizens from the benefits enjoyed by the majority: the crimes that caused most concern were usually committed by young men from certain areas who often had a low level of education and were not trained for a job. They viewed their chances of being accepted as valued members of society as negligible. The best way to deal with such 'alienated, destructive people' is to reintegrate them into society and turn their destructive tendencies in constructive directions, Ms Stern says.

'A punitive approach does not prevent crime or protect society, but will instead make society more violent and less safe . . . if newspapers describe delinquent children in terms more appropriate to wild animals then they and their families will feel that is how society regards them and respond accordingly. Within such a framework, crime and disorder can only grow.'

Nacro runs schemes aimed at preventing crime on housing estates, diverting young people and mentally disturbed offenders from custody and providing training and resettlement assistance for ex-offenders.

Victim Support, the charity that assists victims of crime, is facing a severe shortage of funds because of the increase in offending and a limit on its grant from the Home Office, the organisation discloses today.

The organisation's annual report shows that in 1992-93, it helped nearly 1 million victims of crime, an increase of 25 per cent.

Victim Support says it is facing a shortfall of pounds 150,000, which is likely to increase to pounds 2.3m in the year 1994-95. It receives about pounds 8.6m a year from the Home Office, which it says is inadequate.

The charity says that its work with witnesses at crown courts is under threat and its plans to extend the service to all courts are likely to be scrapped. Its annual meeting tonight, which is due to be attended by the Princess Royal and Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, is expected to hear a strong call for more money.