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Prison Capacity

Volume 511: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2010

We must provide prison places for those whom the courts judge should receive a custodial sentence. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), we intend to bring forward proposals on rehabilitation and sentencing after the House returns in October. Long-term decisions on prison capacity programmes will be taken in the light of the policy agreed at the end of the process.

On 30 January 2007, when asked whether we needed more prisons, the Prime Minister said, on the Jon Gaunt “talkSPORT” show:

“Yes…no doubt more prisons have got to be built.”

How does that fit with the Justice Secretary’s announcement this week that he would like to see fewer people in prison? Is this an example of Opposition rhetoric catching up with the Prime Minister, or is it yet another example of a policy disagreement between the Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary?

Absolutely not. I notice that the date to which the hon. Gentleman referred was in 2007, and there certainly has been a significant increase in the prison population between then and today. As far as the prison building programme is concerned, I draw attention to the evidence that the then Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor gave to the Committee referred to by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). He said that the prison building programme, as it now stands, is an opportunity to upgrade and update our prison capacity to make it more fit for the purpose of addressing reoffending behaviour. If we are successful in bringing about a drop in prisoner numbers—I am quite sure that everyone in the House would like to see that—we may be able to release other parts of the estate.

In the context of capacity and overcrowding, what are the Minister’s views on short sentences, especially for women?

The evidence is that short custodial sentences are not working. They produce terrible reoffending rates. We do not have the capacity in the probation service to address people on licence, which is one reason why they do not have any supervision when they leave prison, and we are on the most dreadful merry-go-round. It is one of the glaring gaps in the way that we deal with offenders and reoffending behaviour, and the current Administration will do their level best to address the issue.