US package for crackdown on crime

NEW anti-crime legislation moved a step closer to the American statute book when the House of Representatives yesterday passed a dollars 27.5bn ( pounds 18.4bn) package. It called for more prisons, more police on the streets and mandated the 'three strikes and you're out' - baseball phraseology that urges automatic life sentence - penalty for offenders committing a third violent crime.

Just before the final 285-141 vote in favour, Thomas Foley, the House Speaker, hailed the bill as 'far and away the most important' of its kind passed by Congress. The Attorney-General, Janet Reno, praised it for offering 'punishment, policing and prevention in a commonsense way'. Not least, it provides vital cover for House members up for re-election this autumn by voters whose prime concern, poll after poll has shown, is crime and violence.

Last November the Senate passed its own dollars 22bn crime bill. That now must be reconciled with the House legislation before final approval by both chambers and signature into law by President Bill Clinton. Despite the differences, a compromise is likely to be struck fairly quickly.

The bill only calls for 50,000 extra police on the street, compared to 100,000 sought by the Senate. Instead it has allocated dollars 13.5bn for new prisons to be built by states, dollars 10bn more than the Senate bill. Apart from the 'three strikes and you're out' proposal, the House also voted sharply to widen the scope of the death penalty.

Like the Senate, the House stopped short of action that would sharply curtail the appeals process of prisoners on death-row. But it does allow appeals against the death penalty in cases where race may have been a factor in the sen tencing. Its version, however, does not include the ban on 19 types of assault weapons approved by the Senate.

Despite the headlines generated by Congress's get-tough policy on crime, the effects will be limited. The majority of criminals are dealt with at state and local level.

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