...so offenders who commit crimes of assault, robbery and stealing and where appropriate for domestic violence and sexual assault should meet their victims and apologise ... but non TV licence payers and those who withhold some of their Council Tax payment (for services not provided) will be sent down ...The Times said:Criminals should be told to apologise to victims, says Cherie
Ruth Gledhill and Richard Ford
Cherie Booth will call today for a huge expansion of face-to-face justice, in which offenders meet their victims and apologise for their crimes.
The wife of the Prime Minister will give warning that sending people to jail does not alter their long-term attitudes and behaviour.
The jail system is facing an overcrowding crisis and courts in England and Wales are being put on standby to hold prisoners in cells overnight.
A set of emergency measures has been drawn up by the Home Office as the number of prisoners being sent to jail continues to rise. On Monday night 270 prisoners were held in police cells because there were not spaces in jails in those parts of the country.
The police will only provide 400 cells for the prison service.
The intervention of Ms Booth in the law-and-order debate is based on the ten years that she has spent sitting in courts as a recorder when she has had to sentence offenders.
She will say in the Radio 4 programme Lent Talk tonight that ârestorative justiceâ, in which offenders meet their victims, should be used routinely for assault, robbery and stealing and where appropriate for domestic violence and sexual assault.
Ms Booth said that when she sentenced an offender she often wondered whether the person felt any remorse for the crime or the effect that it had on the victim.
âThis impression has been reinforced when I have visited prisons and spoken to inmates. It seems that neither the court process nor the prison experience is helping them confront their behaviour or its consequences.
âIt is clear that simply locking people up does not itself alter their long-term behaviour. In too many cases, it simply shelves the problem.â
The Home Office is piloting a series of restorative justice schemes in the community and in prisons.
Ms Booth insisted that these programmes did not âsoft-pedal on sinâ but focused on how offenders could make a fresh start in life.
Ms Boothâs support for face-to-face justice will be welcomed by penal reformers who have pressed for it to be adopted as an alternative to sending people to prison.
Officials have made contingency plans with the Department for Constitutional Affairs for prisoners to be held in cells under Crown courts in Central London, Manchester and Birmingham.
Prison governors and officers have been told that they face being drafted into the courts to look after offenders overnight.
The prisons crisis comes just seven weeks after John Reid, the Home Secretary, faced a similar emergency in which court cells had to be used. He brought the problems to the attention of the most senior judges in England and Wales.
The meeting prompted the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, to issue a statement reminding judges to use prison only as a last resort.
The numbers fell, but not by the amount that prison officials had expected, and in recent weeks they have risen steadily.
A Prison Service spokes-woman confirmed that the use of court cells is being planned as a contingency measure in order to ensure prisoner welfare and public safety should prison and police Safeguard accommodation be exhausted.
Court cells were last used in January, a move that angered Lord Falconer of Thoroton, QC, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who has overall responsibility for the courts service.
Last night a statement from the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: âUse of court cells to hold prisoners overnight is only considered as a last resort. If a request to use court cells is made, it is granted only on the condition that the cells will not be used to keep a person at risk of self harm and that it is for the night only.â
What Tony Blair has had to say on sentencing:
âThe courts should be tough on these people [who breach ASBOs] . . . For the majority of people who breach ASBOs, they are actually going insideâ
âIn the 1960s revolution . . . law and order policy still focused on the offenderâs rights, protecting the innocent, understanding the social causes of their criminality. Today, people have had enough of this part of the 1960s consensusâ
âLaws have made a difference, but they have not been clear or tough enough. We need to use the law to send strong signals.â
âThe blunt reality is that, at least in the short and medium term, the measures proposed will mean an increase in prison placesâ