Letter: Probation works

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"PRISON WORKS", the "fatuous slogan" so elegantly demolished by your leading article ("Why our prisons are not working", 20 March) damaged more than the prison system.

Although public thinking about punishment is beginning perceptibly to change, probation-run sentences are still trying to recover from the damage done to their credibility in the last five years as "prison works" effectively marginalised and dismissed all else. Prison and probation were deliberately set up in opposition, rather than being seen as different punishments in the same spectrum of disposals to be used by judges and magistrates.

Probation services supervise about 30,000 more offenders than go through prisons in the course of a year, and usually for much longer periods. Granted, these offenders are usually less dangerous to the public but they are often more prevalent and their offending is no less intractable. Without claiming absolute success, results show that reoffending is reduced, victims are spared and the offender is given an improved chance of going straight.

These sentences are neither soft (about six million hours of unpaid work is carried out by offenders on community service per year) nor without discipline (between 20 and 30 per cent of those who breach their orders are briskly removed to prison).

Probation also provides the programmes that accord with the new catchphrase as "tough on the causes of crime": unemployment, drinking, drug-taking, educational under-achievement, degenerating moral standards and outright selfishness.

The probation service works to serve the justice system and the victimised public. We need more champions who are prepared to come forward to nail their colours to this constructive, if non-populist, mast.

MARY HONEYBALL

General Secretary

Association of Chief Officers of Probation

London E1

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