A succession of reports has punctured the promise made by Michael Howard, then home secretary, in the 1990s that "prison works". Those written by Halliday in 2001 and Carter in 2004 supported calls made by the lord chief justice, successive chief inspectors of prisons and prison directors that too many people were being sent to prison.

Now, an American who was at the centre of the US criminal justice system that Howard sought to copy, is in town with the same message.

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