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UK PM announces plans for criminal justice reform

UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] on Tuesday announced [press release] the coalition government's plans to reform the criminal justice system [text, PDF] to include lesser prison sentences and more community punishment options. The Ministry of Justice [official website] on Tuesday published its Structural Reform Plan, which outlines reform goals for the next two years, including changing criminal sentencing and penalties to include different degrees of crimes and shorter jail terms, increasing prisoner rehabilitation, improving the efficacy of the legal aid system, reorganizing prisons to meet capacity challenges and developing more civil liberty protections. UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke [official profile] praised the reform strategy [press release], saying "we need to focus our resources on protecting the public, punishing offenders and providing access to justice - in a way that is both intelligent and transparent." Cameron's announcement came one day after the Centre for Social Justice [advocacy website] published a report calling for radical reforms [text, PDF] to the country's penal system. However, others oppose the reforms [Mirror report]—particularly victims' rights groups that support tough sentences for murder.

UK criminal justice reform has been debated in the country over the last four years. In 2006, the UK Law Commission [official website] published a report proposing a breakdown of the sentencing scheme for murder [text, PDF] into separate categories with different requirements and punishments. Months later, a UK chief justice spoke out against mandatory sentencing [JURIST report], citing concern over the Law Commission's report and suggesting that the mandatory life sentence for murder be abandoned and that a new broad offense of "homicide" be created which would allow judges wide discretion in sentencing for different scenarios of that according to circumstances. However, previous attempts at reform have met with strong opposition [JURIST report] from British judges, who have called such plans "kneejerk reactions" to sentencing scandals. Proponents of the reforms urge officials to limit prison sentences to only the most dangerous criminals in order to help the government deal with prison overcrowding [BBC backgrounder; Guardian backgrounder] that has reached crisis proportions [JURIST report].

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