Home Secretary Charles Clarke does not mind being called "fascist" if it means dangerous offenders stay in prison, he said last night.
At an address to Birmingham University's College of Law, he outlined his get-tough stance towards dangerous offenders but emphasised his committment to controversial community sentencing.
"I'm not opposed to disproportionately longer sentences for offenders if they are a great danger to the public," said Mr Clarke. "There is a public concern people who ought to be in prison are not because of failings in the criminal justice system."
The Government's tough attitude to the sentencing of dangerous offenders - which in 2003 ushered in the concept of indefinite sentences - led to him being called a 'fascist', amongst other things, he said.
"If part of that means longer sentences to people who are dangerous to the public, then I don't feel particularly bad about that," he said.
"I want to err on the side of keeping potentially dangerous people behind bars than not. People who commit offences of violence ought to be in prison for a long time. If you behave like that you should pay."
He said people had a reasonable expectation of the criminal justice system to catch and punish criminals, protect the public from dangerous offenders and reduce reoffending.
"We are quite a way from achieving those three expectations in the arrangements we have at the moment," he said. He cited the recent murder of John Monckton where dangerous criminals had been at liberty to kill, "despite being under the supervision of the probation system and the parole
board - where decisions had been taken where they should not have been", he said.
But almost 40,000 of the current 78,000-strong prison population did not fall under the category of being a danger to the public - and the Home Secretary said he was convinced community sentencing had now to be considered in many new cases.
Community sentencing, he said, offered the flexibility and focus to cut reoffending while being of use to the public at large.
"I reject the populist belief that it is a 'soft option' compared to prison," he said. "It is both tough on the offender and more valuable, and often means performing reparation in a more visible way which the community is better able to understand."
The challenge, he said, was introducing wider public confidence in the system.
"Unless sentencers have the confidence of the wider society we will simply end up with sentencers deciding to send to prison."
Last night's address formed one of the university's Issues in the Criminal Justice series of annual lectures.