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"Criminal justice and prisons" by Alan Travis, The Guardian

27th June 2007

The prison overcrowding crisis will sharply limit Downing Street's room for manoeuvre over criminal justice policy, with a renewed surge in numbers expected in October. Gordon Brown must be hoping that a new package of emergency measures, including the 18-day end of custody licence, will get the prisons through to the new year when the crash building programme of extra houseblocks and temporary units will be on stream.

But the continuing use of 500 overflow police and court cells will be a costly daily reminder that more fundamental measures are needed. A review of the prison estate by Lord Carter will give Brown the ammunition he needs to accelerate the expansion of the probation service so that the 60,000 short-term prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less each year could be moved into the community. This could be done by introducing the long overdue "custody plus" sentence contained in David Blunkett's 2003 Criminal Justice Act but not implemented because of lack of probation capacity.

On immigration and asylum Mr Brown can be expected to be much stronger on the benefits of labour migration, with the introduction of the new Australian-style points system next year. But this will be accompanied by a more "hostile" regime to "flush out" the illegal migrants living in Britain. More than 400,000 people face having their access to health and education being cut off from next year, with those "causing the most harm" prioritised for deportation.

ยท Alan Travis is the Guardian's home affairs editor.

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