Penal system to blame for British riots: justice minister

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British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke on Tuesday blamed a "broken penal system" for the unprecedented riots which broke out across the country last month.

Clarke said around 75 percent of adults charged over the unrest had prior convictions and argued that the current penal system had bred a "feral underclass," in an article for the Guardian newspaper.

"The hardcore of the rioters were in fact known criminals," he wrote. "That is the legacy of a broken penal system -- one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful."

In the immediate aftermath, Prime Minister David Cameron said the riots "were not about poverty", but Clarke Wednesday said the government urgently needed to address the country's "appalling social deficit".

The riots, which began after police shot a man dead in north London, were the worst in England since the 1980s, with thousands of masked youths in London, Birmingham and Manchester smashing shop windows and looting in violence that left five people dead.

© 2011 AFP

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