THE treatment of former prisoners in communities is having a negative impact on re-offending rates, a leading academic has warned.

Fergus McNeill, professor of criminology and social work at the University of Glasgow, believes that society's caustic reception of offenders is degrading any hope of steering those freed from prison away from crime. He claims offenders need greater support from those in the community to achieve rehabilitation. He said: "It's somehow easier for us to brandcriminals as abnormal, to treat them as people who are different from us.

"But the result is rejection, which affects their reintegration process."

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He said society had a duty to support ex-offenders for "two moral reasons".

He said: "First, we are often complicit in the social problems that generate crime. Implicitly, we tolerate social conditions of poverty and inequality, which are factors in driving crime rates.

"Secondly, as a matter of justice, when someone receives a punishment, we have to take responsibility for making sure the punishment ends. The reality is different; the formal punishment may end but the collateral social consequences continue."

Mr McNeill has been leading research into desistance from crime for 15 years. He has often spoken out against calls for increased punitive measures as a means to tackle crime.

Instead, Mr McNeill argues that crime rates will be reduced if offenders are offered the chance to repair the damage they have caused as opposed to simply paying a debt through punishment.

He said: "The difference is between settling that debt through suffering or through serving."