The government will create 8,000 new prison places as part of an overhaul of the criminal justice system announced by home secretary John Reid yesterday.
Other proposals include longer sentences for serious offenders and new measures to tackle antisocial behaviour.
Parents will be required to pay compensation for damage cause by the antisocial behaviour of children under 10 – who are below the age of criminal responsibility.
The parental compensation orders, being piloted in 10 areas across the country from this summer, will be introduced alongside intervention and support programmes.
The introduction of the new sentence of custody plus, where low-level offenders would spend a short spell in prison followed by longer community punishment, will not now be implemented this autumn as previously planned. Reid said this would allow prison and probation resources to be prioritised on more serious offenders.
Other proposals include giving judges more discretion, including ending the automatic halving of tariffs for those on unlimited sentences, and speeding up the recall to prison of offenders who break the terms of their licence.
The plan was published as the prison population hit a record high of 78,443, including 11,419 people under 21.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust argued that more money was needed to help addicts and divert mentally ill people out of jails.
“It is difficult to believe, with reconviction rates soaring, that the Home Office would be prepared to dredge up money to waste on 8,000 new prison places at £100,000 as time, when it could be used to invest instead in effective crime cutting measures outside prison walls,” she said.
“Most acquisitive crime is fuelled by drugs, most violent crime and public disorder offences are driven by alcohol.
“Treatment to break addictions would be humane and cost effective. Our jails are crammed with the mentally ill in urgent need of diversion into healthcare. Enforced community work and proper parental supervision, rather than the boredom and bullying in young offender institutions, would cut petty crime.”
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, the probation union, warned that recipients of parental compensation orders were likely to be among the “poorest in society” and least able to pay.
The Howard League for Penal Reform accused the home secretary of “responding to a crisis” rather than looking at the long-term impact of the proposals.
“Locking more men, women and children up for longer cannot be considered a serious, measured response to protecting and reassuring the public,” a spokesperson said.