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Imprisonment (Crime Rate)

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012

1. Whether he has made an assessment of any correlation between the size of the prison population and the crime rate; and if he will make a statement. (106574)

May I first offer to the House the apologies of the Secretary of State for Justice and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice? My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is on a visit to Russia, where he will be speaking at the international legal forum to promote United Kingdom legal services overseas. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is attending the Police Federation conference. Those engagements were made before the changed dates for departmental oral questions became clear following Prorogation.

Turning to Question 1, the evidence report that we published alongside the “Breaking the Cycle” Green Paper shows that there is no clear consensus among experts about the link between the size of the prison population and crime levels. A further Government assessment of the evidence for a correlation illustrates that the causes of crime are complex and that there is no simple link between prison population size and crime levels. We will publish that assessment in due course.

I thank the Minister for that answer and congratulate him on pursuing a traditional Conservative agenda. In 2010-11, the crime rate dropped by 3%. At the same time, the prison population rose from 84,700 to 86,000. If the Minister is looking for a justification for following that strategy, I commend to him the House of Commons Library. I asked it to track the prison population and the crime rate since the war. Its conclusion was that the charts suggest that in England and Wales increases in prison population have tended to occur at a similar time to falls in levels of recorded crime.

My hon. Friend has made himself an authority in this area. He will know, therefore, that international experience is different from what he has described. The relationship between the level of crime and the level of incarceration differs across the world. The experience of countries such as Germany, Spain, Finland, Netherlands and Canada, and the state of New York, tends to contradict his analysis, while the experience of Florida and Denmark tends to support it. There is no clear evidence of such a simple relationship as he suggests.

How many prisoners who come under the category of “prisoners protesting innocence” have gone way over their tariff, with the Parole Board refusing to release them because they refuse to admit that they were guilty, even though some of them may have served 25 years?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I do not know the precise answer and suspect that it would be difficult to get the precise data to analyse the problem. There is such a problem, not least with sex offenders, who are often reluctant to engage with the system and often protest their innocence when they are not innocent. It is a problem to get such people to engage with offender behaviour programmes. The hon. Lady is right that there is a class of prisoner who does not engage in that way, rightly or wrongly, and who presents the system with particular problems. I will follow up that matter.

Presuming that, even under the prescription of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), most prisoners will eventually be released, is there not a danger that putting massive expenditure into an ever-increasing prison population would mean cutting expenditure to ensure that when people are released, they do not commit more crimes?

My right hon. Friend is, of course, correct. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is fond of the American experience, where 2 million people are in prison. The logical result of that is the experience in California, where the prison system has become so overcrowded and inhumane that the Supreme Court of the United States has ordered the Californians to release 30,000 prisoners within two years to sort out the prison system. We certainly do not want to find ourselves in that situation.

I welcome the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) to the Front Bench to answer Justice questions. It is surely only a matter of time before the Prime Minister makes the move permanent. As has been said, half the ministerial team are not here today. For our part, we are flattered that both the Justice Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice are running scared. Let us wait and see whether it makes a difference to the Front Benchers’ performance.

I will begin with an easy one. Do this Conservative-led Government still have a target of reducing the prison population by 3,000 from what it was in May 2010?

First, I am gratified by the confidence that the Justice Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice have in the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), and in my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), our departmental Whip, who is also responding as a Minister.

We have never had a target. We have an estimate of what is happening and an estimate of the consequences of our policies.

Sir David Latham, the former chairman of the Parole Board and Court of Appeal judge, who retired last month, has warned that due to decisions made by this Government, the only way to prevent a backlog of those who have completed their sentence is to change how the Parole Board reaches decisions, which means it

“may not actually be as effective in protecting the public”.

Does the Minister accept that by abolishing indeterminate sentences for public protection the Government are removing from the Parole Board the responsibility to deal properly with the most violent and serious offenders and taking a risk with public safety?

Absolutely not. The right hon. Gentleman’s attempt to juxtapose Sir David Latham’s points with the conduct of the current Government is pretty rich, given that the problem that we inherited came from the shambles of the administration of IPPs. The Labour Government estimated that there would be 900 such sentences, but we now have about 6,500 people in the prison system on IPPs, more than half of them beyond tariff. That presents the Parole Board with a huge problem, which his party’s Administration did not address in delivering its resources until far too late. The current Administration are now gripping all of that.