9 AUGUST 1975, Page 4

Crime and punishment

Sir: Reginald Maudling's article on 'Alternatives to Prison' (July, 20) was" sympathetic and timely commentorY on the current crisis in the prison population. The Home Offie'e recentb; announced that there are over 40,000 people in prison — and those who 1(001k our prisons at first hand acknowledge with serions concern the appalling overcrowding in many establishments. However, Mr Maudling was w° generous in complimenting the Horne Office (and himself as a former Horne Secretary) on its attempts to solve tEL problem of prison overcrowding. In' deed, in many respects, the Hone , Office has lacked a con vincingtY I dynamic approach to developing alternatives to imprisonment — and ha5 clearly failed to prevent gross prison overcrowding.

Last year, the Home Secretary closed six open prisons and borstals, in spite ot protests from penal reformers that these open institutions could be used effectively to ease the burden on the closed establishments. That decision must clearly be seen now as mistaken'

Mr Maudling was right to refer to the 1972 Criminal Justice Act which significantly extended alternatives t° imprisonment. Ample alternatives d° exist on paper: probation, community' service, day training -centres, hostels, suspended sentence supervision, PlIa.s parole. But all too often, their use1-5, limited or ineffective through lack 0' staff and resources in the Probation and After-Care Service.

If the Home Office had practiced" more imaginative and generous poluiiY, towards the Service over the Pas'

decade, we should certainly not have a Prison problem of such dangerous magnitude on our hands now.

David Mat hieson (Chairman) National Association of Probation Officers, Parliamentary and Public Relations Committee, St Helens