At a time of limited resources the government cannot afford to ignore proposals to abolish imprisonment for pure property offences, a criminal litigator has warned.

Robert Brown, partner at criminal firm Corker Binning, was responding to proposals from campaign group the Howard League for Penal Reform that prison should be reserved for people convicted of violent, threatening or sexual crimes. 

The proposals, in a pamphlet by Oxford professor Andrew Ashworth, were immediately rejected by justice minister Damian Green (pictured), who said: ‘This government has no intention of changing the law to prevent judges sending offenders to prison. It is right they have the full range of sentencing options available to them.’

However Brown said: ‘In a time of scarce resources money could be better saved by adopting these proposals, rather than privatising the probation system, which will lead to a deskilling of services,’ he said.

‘The proposals do not deserve the derision from the Daily Mail and other newspapers. They are not particularly radical.

‘Firstly there is lots of evidence that prison doesn’t work, secondly it is incredibly expensive and thirdly there are alternatives available that are more effective.’

He said tackling the root causes of repeat offending for property crimes such as addiction would be a more effective way of dealing with the problem. ‘Education, rehabilitation and treatment is more beneficial to society.’

‘It is a hot potato, but the government should grow up and be more magisterial about what are sensible proposals.’

The Howard League said the proposals would save £230m per year by reducing the sentenced male prison population by 8% (5,000 men) and sentenced female prison population by 21% (700 women).