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Focus on rehabilitation not longer sentences, says Ken Clarke

Criticism follows need to use police cells to house people on remand

Tory former justice secretary and home secretary Ken Clarke has urged a reversal in the trend for increasing maximum prison sentences and a focus instead on rehabilitation.

His comments followed criticism over a move to hold inmates in police cells after a surge in overcrowding in male prisons over the last few months.

The Government has said this is a required “temporary measure” due in part to an exceptional number of prisoners held on remand as a result of the barristers’ strike, and the surge in offenders receiving custodial sentences.

The prison population rose by over 1,500 in October and November which Justice Minister Lord Bellamy described as “a highly unusual increase, which has caused pressure on the adult male estate but not the female or youth justice estates.”

Lord Clarke of Nottingham, who started his career as a QC, said: “I think I am correct in saying that we have the second highest incarceration rate in the western world by far, after the United States of America.

“I have been around for the last 40 years and, in recent years, successive governments – Labour and Conservative – have tended to introduce an annual criminal justice Bill increasing the maximum sentences for offences that have featured most in the popular press of the previous 12 months.

“As there is no evidence whatever that the length of sentence has any effect on the incidence of crime, and as the minister also acknowledges the value of rehabilitation, does he agree that reversing the trend on sentencing and concentrating more on rehabilitation work, would be a valuable change in criminal justice policy if the new Government were to adopt it in the next two years?

Lord Bellamy said: “The Government place the highest premium on rehabilitation and reducing the reoffending rate. The Government’s position is that this is not the moment to consider a change in sentencing policy.”

Independent crossbencher Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, who founded the Crime Concern charity and its successor Catch 22, said the number of those held on remand has tripled in the last 15 years and many of those remand prisoners who are young black men do not need to be held in prisons.

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