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FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN ROLE FOR PROBATION SERVICE

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Home secretary David Blunkett spelt out the crucial frontline role ...
Home secretary David Blunkett spelt out the crucial frontline role

the probation service would have as law enforcers within the criminal

justice system.

Speaking in Sheffield, where he was opening a new probation

head office, he said it was more important than ever that community

punishment commanded public confidence.

Calling for a wide public debate on proposals to reform sentencing he

said:

'I am not going to be partisan about it. How criminals are punished -

and how we ensure they don't offend again - is too important to be

left to judges and politicians alone. So I want to hear what people

think: not just those who have a traditional role or official

interest in the criminal justice system, but those who have a right

to be involved and to be consulted - the public who are so often

victims.

'The probation service of the future will need to fulfil a

fundamentally different role from before as a law enforcement agency,

and as an integrated part of the criminal justice system, working

alongside the police, crown prosecution service and prison service to

reduce reoffending.'

Kick starting the public debate, the home secretary said:

'I want to ask people to actively join in a debate, so that together

we can work out a new, common sense, effective approach to

sentencing. A system that is fair and is seen to be fair, a system

which can show it reduces reoffending and where offenders make

reparation to their victims and the local community. We need a more

transparent sentencing structure that will command public support and

respect.'

Mr Blunkett made it clear that while he wanted prison sentences to

protect the public from the most dangerous offenders, short custodial

sentences provided little opportunity to change the offenders

behaviour and problems which put people in prison in the first place.

Following the publication of the Halliday Review and the home office

consultation on sentencing reform, Mr Blunkett said he was

particularly keen to hear people's views on six key issues:

- Reducing reoffending - should a sentence just be about punishing

the guilty or is preventing reoffending important as well?

- Reparation (recompense) to the victim or the community is this

important?

- Community sentences - what makes a community sentence an effective

alternative to prison?

- Intermittent prison - where an offender has to report for

imprisonment during certain hours, but for the rest of the time is

able to stay with his family and keep his job - is this a good idea?

- Custody Minus - where a convicted offender is given a

prison sentence but it is suspended on condition that

the offender completes a demanding programme of

activity in the community. If he fails to complete

this he would automatically go to prison.

- Violent and dangerous offenders - no longer an automatic release

once half to two-thirds of the sentence has been served but judges

would order convicted criminals to serve their full sentence in

prison with tough follow-on community supervision.

Throughout September home office ministers will be making a series of

regional visits to hear people's views and to call on local media to

facilitate debate on this important issue of effective punishments

targeted at those offenders who damage the lives of individual

victims and local communities.

Opening the new head office for South Yorkshire Probation, the home

secretary said:

'Reforms on the lines of those proposed by the Halliday Review will

have a significant impact on the probation service. Public scrutiny

will demand more than ever that the service ensures that community

sentences command public credibility, are run to high standards and

demonstrably cut reoffending.'

At the new head office, the home secretary met with offenders on the

Prolific Offenders Programme and with local probation staff who said

the programme had been credited with stopping up to 450 crimes and

probably saved victims and public services£864,000. He also met men

and women whose work with Drink-Drivers significantly cuts the

likelihood of convicted offenders driving drunk again, halving their

reconviction rates.

NOTES

1. Members of the general public can participate in the debate by

writing to the home secretary at Fairer Sentencing, room 347, Home

Office, 50 Queen Anne's Gate London SW1H 9AT, or by e-mail on

home.secretary@fairer- sentencing.co.uk, or by fax on 020 7273 3583.

2. For further information see the websitededicated to the

sentencing reform debate.

3. Home secretary's speech to the National Probation Service on

sentencing reform following the publication of the Halliday Review on

5 July 2001 is available here.

4. POPS (the prolific offender project) is run jointly by the

Probation Service with the Police. Offenders are placed under

intensive supervision and given guidance about drugs and issues such

as housing and work. Those that reoffend are quickly detected. Police

calculate that for the first 16 offenders on the course, given their

known offending patterns and previous convictions, that had they

continued to offend 450 would have been committed while they were

under the scheme.

5. The Drink Impaired Driver Programme, already independently

assessed and being copied nationally, reduces usual reconviction

rates for drink driver from over one in four being reconvicted within

two years, to just over one in 10.

6. The social exclusion unit is currently working with the home

office and other government departments on ways to cut rates of

reoffending by ex-prisoners, in particular by boosting levels of

employment and lowering homelessness. The unit's period of research

is now drawing to a close, and it is due to report to the prime

minister later in the year.

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