Dangerous offenders released on probation will face tougher supervision to prevent them re-offending, under new measures announced by the government.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has proposed restrictive orders similar to those applied to sex offenders.

But judges and probation staff said the supervision system was overloaded.

The plans come as a paedophile who admitted raping a nine-year-old girl despite being under community supervision was jailed indefinitely.

Kevin Hazelwood, 40, from Brighton, Sussex, was told he must serve a minimum of five years and seven months.

There has also been concern over recent cases in which criminals on probation carried out murders such as the killings of Reading teenager Mary-Ann Leneghan and banker John Monckton in London.

Mr Clarke told the Commons the proposed order would ensure violent offenders remained under supervision on release from prison until the formal end of their sentences.

He said no risk "can ever be eliminated" but said the plans were "an important step forwards in protecting the public".

New curfews

Offenders sent to prison for 12 months or more are released at the half way point on licence, and currently are subject to probationary supervision until they are three quarters through their original sentence.

Beyond that point they are not supervised but can be returned to custody for the rest of their sentence if they commit another offence.

Judges are to be given more powers to impose conditions on high-risk offenders once they are in the community.

Dangerous offenders could be put under curfew, banned from sports grounds or even limited on how much alcohol they could drink.  

Breaching a new violent offender order could carry a maximum of five years in jail.

In extreme cases, the order could last for the rest of the offender's life.

Mr Clarke said good behaviour in prison would no longer be seen as an important factor in determining release dates.

"I am issuing guidance to both prisons and probation staff to highlight the need to avoid over-emphasis on good behaviour in prison and the progress in addressing what are called dynamic risk factors when assessing risk prior to release," he said.

The home secretary intimated more funding will be made available from existing budgets to the Parole Board to reintroduce face-to-face interviews with prisoners before release.

In his statement, Mr Clarke said probation officers will be asked to focus on the most dangerous criminals.

He said he believed the probation service was willing to introduce reform in the wake of the Monckton case.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said some of the plans were "welcome and constructive" but added the proposals "failed to address the real problems in the probation service".

Violent criminals would not be deterred by "some kind of super-Asbo", he said.

The Liberal Democrat's spokesman on Home Affairs, Nick Clegg, broadly welcomed the proposal but questioned whether the government would provide the necessary funding.

'Under-resourced'

Probation service representatives and human rights campaigners have raised broader concerns about the measures.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the most serious offenders should stay in jail.

"Ultimately there should be much better mental health services in the community and better police in probation," she told the BBC.

Assistant general secretary of the probation officers union Napo, Harry Fletcher, said existing court powers were adequate.

"They can impose indeterminate sentences which means potentially forever," he said.

"They can have extended supervision for dangerous and violent offenders already, they have electronic tagging, they have curfews."

He said ministers should "stop blaming the under-resourced probation service when release decisions go wrong".

No-one could have predicted Mary-Ann Leneghan's murder, he added.

The Probation Boards' Association said there were "major concerns" about violent offender orders.

"If no extra resources are forthcoming, officers will be taken away from other duties," it said.

"This may well be necessary but there needs to be clarity about the implications."

The relatives of some people killed by criminals under supervision said prisoners should serve their full sentences.

Verna Bryant said the convicted rapist who killed her daughter Naomi should not have been released, or at least should have been monitored thoroughly.

"I think if he was institutionalised he should have been kept in the institution. I don't think he should have been let out."

Victor Bates, whose wife Marian was shot by robbers at her Nottingham jeweller's shop in 2003, said the probation service should not be supervising released prisoners.

"It was never designed to do that," he said. "Keep the violent criminals locked up. Do not let violent criminals out early under any circumstances."

CURRENT PROBATION SERVICES (Sources: National Probation Service and Home Office)
  • The National Probation Service supervises more than 200,000 offenders each day
  • About 70% have been given community sentences and 30% have been in prison but are now out on licence
  • Offenders are assessed and given supervision programmes
  • Offenders have regular contact with a probation officer - initially weekly visits
  • Some are placed in special hostels with restrictions
  • Hostel rules include curfews, CCTV, mail monitoring, observation, drug testing, bans on contacting named people and police visits - breaches can lead to recall to prison
  • Probation officers find and regularly monitor unpaid community work
  • High risk sexual and violent offenders are assessed by specialist panels and extra court orders can further restrict behaviour.
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