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Five Steps for a Safer Britain

We can cut crime campaign

There are five main points to the Liberal Democrat campaign "we can cut crime" on this page they are explained in more detail. For more details about the Liberal Democrat policy on crime visit the website at :-

Lib Dem - Crime Policy

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Step 1 - More police on patrol - don't waste billions on ID cards.

The expensive, illiberal ID cards scheme is already costing £97,000 a day. We would cancel the scheme and divert the money to paying for more police. Keeping police on patrol is vital to reinforce public safety, but too much time is spent processing paperwork. Liberal Democrats support reducing this burden on officers both by greater use of the latest IT systems and communications technology, and by using civilian auxiliary staff in the police station to allow police officers to spend more time out in frontline police duties.

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Step 2 - Compulsory work and training in prison - to cut reoffending.

Prisoners who do not participate in education or training are three times more likely to go back to crime. But 65% of offenders do not receive any training. Too many offenders do not have the skills to go straight. Only 20% of prisoners exceed the standards expected of an 11-year old in writing, a third in maths. Half of male and two thirds of female prisoners don't have any qualifications, and 96% don't have the skills needed by employers. Only 12% of prisoners work each day, and only 10% of prisoners enter employment on release.

We would:

  • treble the number of prisoners working
  • make education and training compulsory
  • For prisoners with serious mental health or drug problems, we would:
  • expand residential drug treatment
  • establish specialist alcohol treatment in prison
  • develop specialised heroin prescription and treatment centres
  • divert the £1.5bn prison building fund to more secure/semi-secure mental health treatment
  • send people to treatment not prison if they commit crime because of mental health problems

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Step 3 - Better compensation for victims - paid for by prison work

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is slow and inefficient; it takes an average of 39 weeks to process each case. Despite inflation, the maximum level of award has remained at £500,000 since 1996, and the scheme is inadequate for dealing with multiple injuries. We would:

  • simplify the claims and appeals process to ensure any claim is decided within 12 months.
  • increase the awards in line with inflation
  • Replace the current tariffs with guideline brackets so awards can reflect the circumstances of each case, and ensure that awards reflect the number as well as severity of injuries.

The additional cost will be funded by contributions from a common fund which will be paid into by contributions from prisoners' earnings. We would model the scheme on pilots run by the Howard League for Penal Reform. Prisoners will be liable to pay tax, national insurance and child support, will make contributions to a Victims' Compensation Fund and make savings for their release. They will gain not only skills, but budgeting experience and a sense of responsibility.

Offenders on non-custodial sentences should also pay back to the community and develop work skills. The unpaid work element of community sentences should be targeted at projects that improve the local environment and used wherever possible to require offenders to 'put right' the damage they have caused to the local community, like cleaning up graffiti. The local community would be encouraged to put forward suggestions of projects.

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Step 4 - Take back our town centres - let communities close pubs and clubs that cause trouble

Too many people are frightened to use their town centre. We would make our town centres safer by introducing important changes to the licensing laws to give communities more power to close down licensed premises that cause trouble.

Only 12 landlords on average each year since 1997 have been prosecuted for allowing drunken or riotous behaviour on their premises. Councillors are too restricted in their ability to make representations on behalf of residents, and should be allowed to take a lead where there are problems and premises need to be closed down.

Local authorities should have more powers to take account of local circumstances and their local knowledge, instead of having to abide by centrally determined licensing policies - for example by considering availability of public transport when deciding on a licence application. They should be allowed to stop premises from extending their opening hours if an area is saturated. And local licensing policies should not be able to be struck down by magistrates. The government has made large pubs pay extra for policing, but has excluded nightclubs. We believe all premises that cause late-night disorder should contribute to the cost of policing.

We would also encourage councils to use planning policies to impose seating requirements in venues where "vertical drinking" causes problems, and plan town centre layouts for easy crowd dispersal.

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Step 5 - Make sentences mean what they say - life should mean life

The public have lost confidence and trust in the sentencing procedures of the criminal justice system. So the Liberal Democrat policy on sentencing is honest, clear and straightforward - sentences will do what they say on the tin. Non-custodial sentences will be beefed up to give a real alternative to jail.

There will be four categories of sentence :-

- Public Service Sentences:

  • More non-violent criminals, such as shoplifters, some fine defaulters and petty vandals, should receive a Public Service Sentence, requiring them to do tough community work as an alternative to jail. These sentences will reduce re-offending and give offenders skills for legitimate work. They will be run by a new Community Sentence Enforcement Service, which would help restore public confidence and free up probation officers to supervise serious offenders.

- Fixed Term Sentences:

  • For offenders sent to prison, we propose Fixed Term Sentences with the minimum and maximum term announced by the judge in open court. Offenders would be eligible for parole after the minimum term, and granted release on the say-so of a parole board.

- Public Safety Sentence - Indefinite imprisonment with a minimum term:

  • Very serious offenders would receive a Public Safety Sentence of indefinite imprisonment with a minimum term - similar to the current "life" sentence. After serving the minimum term set out by the judge, release would only be agreed after a hearing by a Parole Board.

- Life Custody:

  • The most serious offenders should serve Life Custody, where the judge considered the offender should never be released. This currently applies to only a handful of inmates - but calling a short sentence "life" is just spin. The word should only be used for whole-life sentences.