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Prisoner Numbers

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010

Over the coming months we will look in detail at the sentencing frameworks for adult and young offenders, as well as at the range of penalties available in the criminal justice system. That means introducing more effective policies, as well as overhauling the system of rehabilitation to reduce reoffending. We will take the time necessary to get it right and will consult widely before bringing forward full plans for reform.

Will the Secretary of State give the House three examples of the kind of criminals currently in jail who will not be in prison under his plans?

I will not anticipate the sentencing review. [Interruption.] No, I will not. The last person I met in jail who clearly should not have been there had been sent to prison because he was in dispute with his ex-wife over the maintenance he was supposed to pay for their children. Of course he was under an obligation to pay for his children, but providing a place for him in jail was not the best use of prison. Anybody who visits a prison will find people who are there for rather surprising combinations of reasons, some of which are far away from those relating to serious crimes.

Prison is the most effective punishment we have for serious criminal offenders. There is a continuing case, and there always will be one, for protecting the public against the activity of serious offenders by imprisoning them. However, in recent years, we have not paid enough attention to how, at the same time, we minimise the risk of reoffending, seek to reform those in prisons and divert them away from future crime, and eventually ensure that there are better and more effective ways of dealing with those who are capable of being dealt with.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend carefully examine the early release scheme pursued by the previous Government, which led to a very high proportion of those released early going on to reoffend, to great harm to the British public?

That was not a policy; that was a catastrophe. The previous Government went through a phase of allowing their rhetoric and some of their policy intentions to outrun any serious common sense and then found that they had to let people out early, before they had finished their sentence, because they could not physically get them into prisons. Whatever else comes out of a sentencing review, I trust that we will avoid any nonsense of that kind in our period of office.

Evidence suggests that 75% to 90% of rapes go unreported, and I hope that the whole House will try to deal with that situation to improve it. Is the Justice Secretary at all worried that his plans to provide anonymity for defendants in rape trials will contribute to fewer rapists going to prison?

I do not think that there is anybody in this House—and there has not been for as long as I can remember—who is not in favour of anonymity for people who make complaints of rape and who does not think it extremely important to encourage women to come forward on all proper occasions to press complaints about the serious criminal offence of rape. The issues surrounding anonymity for the person accused are quite different from that, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), has just addressed those questions. This is a matter of how far we can protect those people, and others accused of criminal offences, up to the time of charge. That approach was agreed by those on both sides of this House in the not-too-distant past—in the previous Parliament—and it probably will eventually be agreed in this Parliament too.