Labour U-turn over jackets that 'shame criminals'

by JAMES SLACK, Daily Mail

Last updated at 08:56 03 August 2005

Criminals will be forced to wear fluorescent uniforms so the public can see them carrying out community punishments.

They will take to the streets wearing brightly-coloured jackets emblazoned with the slogan 'community payback'.

The 'shaming' policy has been forced through despite warnings, repeated last night, that it will make offenders resentful and less likely to complete their sentence.

The jackets are already being worn in Durham and will be issued nationwide in November.

When the criminals have finished their work, a plaque will be put up to say what has been done.

The idea provoked a row when it was first suggested by the Home Office in May.

Downing Street, stung by the criticism from civil liberties campaigners that it would ape US-style chain gangs, immediately backed away.

But Home Secretary Charles Clarke, a cheerleader for the plan - dreamed up by his deputy, Hazel Blears - has persuaded Tony Blair to do a U-turn. Mr Clarke argued that it is the only way the public will accept greater use of community punishments - such as picking up litter and removing graffiti - as an alternative to jail.

Home Office Ministers convinced the Prime Minister, who has promised to restore 'respect' to Britain's streets, that the public will drop opposition to 'soft' community punishments if they see offenders hard at work.

They have told him it could also win over sceptical magistrates, who continue to prefer jail terms.

It is a last throw of the dice to try to control the prison population, which stands at 77,000 and is expected to hit 91,000 by the end of the decade.

Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland said: "It is very important that the public can be confident in the criminal justice system.

"Tough community sentences, which are properly enforced, are a robust alternative to short-term prison sentences."

But the human rights group Liberty last night attacked the Government for ignoring the widespread opposition to the plan.

It said: "To make offenders wear flourescent jackets is a move towards degrading people. You do not reform people by degrading them."

The National Probation Officers' Association said there was no evidence that making offenders wear uniforms would cut crime.

"Introducing uniforms, caps, badges, or naming and shaming offenders is likely to degrade them, make them resentful and not turn up for community punishment," it said.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "An idea like this may well make a minor contribution to public confidence but it will not make up for eight years of neglect of law and order."

The Probation Service in Durham, which has just begun dressing offenders in the jackets, insists the idea will be a success.

Spokesman Hazel Willoughby said: "Communities benefited from over 200,000 hours of unpaid work in the North-East last year - but this work often goes un-noticed."

Neighbouring Teeside is keen to follow suit in November, when the powers go nationwide.

The Home Office said it would be up to individual probation chiefs to decide if offenders wear the flourescent jackets. They will be allowed to consult the public over what work criminals should carry out.

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