Move to abolish short jail sentences in Britain

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London, Feb 1 (UNI) In a move that could spell the end of short jail sentences in Britain, burglars and muggers will be let off with community work.

Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw announced that offenders who would otherwise get a prison term of a year or less will instead be given ''supervision and activity'' programmes.

They will be tagged and told to complete ''physically-demanding unpaid work'', which could include making nesting boxes for birds and bats to attract local wildlife.

The Justice Secretary will spend 13.9 million pounds over the next two years on six ''alternative to custody'' projects for convicts.

If deemed a success, these are likely to be extended across the country, letting off the 60,000 criminals currently jailed for 12 months or less.

At the moment virtually all crimes short of murder, manslaughter and rape can be punished with a short jail term.

These include violent assault, theft, dangerous or drink driving and the vast majority of burglaries.

Criticising the move and attributing it to overcrowding of jails, Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Heath said, ''Government policy has left us with prisons that are still full to bursting despite 16,000 prisoners being released early. The length of sentence served should be dictated by the severity of the crime, not by how much room there is available in our prisons.'' UNI XC SKB AS1753

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