The immense political difficulties surrounding any serious attempt at penal reform were amply illustrated on last week's publication of the government's bill designed to put an end to the courts' "love affair" with prison.

Buried at the heart of the new management of offenders bill is a modest measure requiring Lord Woolf's Sentencing Guidelines Council to take account of "the resources that are, or are in the future likely to be, available, including the capacity of the prison and probation services" when setting out the going rate for every major crime.

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