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Prisons: Population

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2016

By making our prisons places of rehabilitation, we hope to reduce reoffending and thus, in due course, reduce the prison population.

I am sure that that is an aspiration with which we can all agree.

The independent review established by the Prison Reform Trust and chaired by Lord Laming found that up to 50% of all young people in custody had been in care at some point in their lives. What plans has the Secretary of State to reduce the number of looked-after children who end up in custody?

The right hon. Gentleman has made a characteristically acute point. A disproportionate number of those who find themselves in contact with the criminal justice system and subsequently in custody are children who have been in care. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is introducing a series of reforms to enhance the quality of social work and ensure that looked-after children are better cared for, but we in the Ministry of Justice also have a responsibility. We will shortly be publishing our conclusions on the review of youth justice by Charlie Taylor, which will say more about how we can help some of our most troubled young people.

In 2002, there were only 46 Polish people in our prisons; today there are 983. Back then, there were only 50 prisoners from Romania; today there are 635. The same is true of many European Union countries, particularly those in eastern Europe.

If we want to reduce the prison population, would it not be a good idea to stop free movement of people—which has become rather more like free movement of criminals—into the United Kingdom, so that these criminals do not come into the UK in the first place before being sent to prison?

My hon. Friend has made a characteristically robust point. I am speaking from the Government Front Bench, and I must represent Government policy accurately, but I can remind Members that on 23 June people will have an opportunity to cast their votes, and pungent voices like that of my hon. Friend will, I am sure, weigh with them as they decide how to do so.

As opposed to shy shrinking violets like the right hon. Gentleman. I presume that that is what he had in mind; I was sort of reading between the lines.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has a point. The prisoner transfer arrangement with EU countries has been painfully slow—only 95 have been transferred—and at the end of the year Poland’s derogation will cease. Has the Secretary of State begun the process of looking at what will happen after that?

Absolutely. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is right to remind us that prison transfer agreements have not always worked as they were originally envisaged, but my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has been working closely with the Home Office, and there are 50 Polish prisoners whom we hope to expedite when the derogation expires.

While putting a figure on it may not be wise, does the Lord Chancellor agree that if his prison reform policy is successful, its ultimate conclusion must be far fewer people in prison and far better life chances?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, in two respects. It would be wrong to set an arbitrary target, but we intend to ensure that all our policies work—not just our policies relating to rehabilitation and prisons, but some of the broader policies that were touched on by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) in respect of young people. If all those policies work and the Government’s broader life chances agenda is implemented in full, we should reduce offending, and also ensure that our society is fairer and more socially just.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one way of reducing the prison population would be to conduct a serious review of short-term sentencing? It provides no drug rehabilitation or educational programmes for prisoners who are shortly to be released, but simply sends them back into the system over and over again.

There is evidence that some short sentences do not have the rehabilitative effect that we all want to see. We want to ensure that all those who are sent into custody by the courts—and we respect their right to decide what sentence is appropriate for a crime —receive the support that they need in order not to offend again.