Letter: Imprisonment is a failed policy

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The Independent Online
Sir: There is much talk ahead of Michael Howard's speech in the law and order debate at the Conservative Party conference of the need to achieve balance in the criminal justice system. An imbalance that has persisted through the four changes of Home Secretary since 1989 is the reluctance on the part of those in office to support publicly the appropriateness and effectiveness of the wide range of community penalties provided by the Probation Service.

Preoccupation with serious crime, which is a worrying but relatively small proportion of the total workload of the courts, now threatens to return use of custody to a central position in the sentencing framework. Thus prison will be the disposal against which all other alternatives must be measured for punitiveness. This is a retrograde step, a reversal of some of the principled innovations of recent years and an abandonment of prudence to court populist clamour for more use of the most costly, but most ineffective, sentence for many offenders. The impact on the prison population is destined to overturn virtually every recommendation of the Woolf Inquiry report into the Strangeways riot.

Crime will not be reduced, public anxieties will not be allayed and anger will mount again because the wrong issue, ie severity of sentencing, has been chosen on which to try to offer appealing but simplistic solutions. We need better leadership than this in devising a penal policy that can truly benefit the community and tackle the roots of crime.

Yours sincerely,

ANNE E. MACE

Chair

Association of Chief Officers of Probation

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

4 October

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