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House of Commons Hansard
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Prison Overcrowding
05 February 2019
Volume 654
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14. What steps he is taking to reduce prison overcrowding. [909001]

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16. What steps he is taking to reduce prison overcrowding. [909003]

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We are making good progress with Wellingborough and Glen Parva Prisons, which will be modern and provide uncrowded capacity and will open in 2021 and 2022 respectively. This is against a background where the long-term population trend has put a stress on the prison estate. I am pleased that the prison population has decreased by around 2,000 in the past year. We will continue to look into how we can ensure further reductions, including looking at better community sentences. Our new prison estate will have up to 10,000 new uncrowded prison places, creating the physical conditions for governors to achieve better educational, training and rehabilitation outcomes.

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Nearly two weeks ago, I raised concerns about broken screens at HMP Bedford that have resulted in my constituents having to put up with loud, intimidating and lewd behaviour from prisoners, and daily intrusions on to their properties by criminals smuggling contraband through their gardens and over the prison wall. The Minister committed to immediately raising the matter with the governor. Will he confirm what action has been taken?

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The Prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), has indeed visited Bedford Prison and is in contact with the governor. The prison is introducing new scanners to help to address some of these issues. We will look at anything that we can do to ensure that no burden is placed on the local community.

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Overcrowding in our prisons leads to inhumane conditions and puts pressure on provision, services and training. That is unacceptable. The public expect reform and rehabilitation. What is the Minister doing to address this issue, as well as the over-representation of black men within our prisons?

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I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of rehabilitation. We have stressed that point, and it has been stressed a number of times this morning. Of course we want to bring overcrowding levels down. It would be fair to say that overcrowding levels have been pretty consistent; they are essentially at the same level as in 2010. On the disproportionate numbers of people from ethnic minorities within the prison system, we take that seriously, as the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), has just pointed out. I look forward to meeting the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) to discuss this shortly.

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One source of overcrowding is the indefinite detention of prisoners using the imprisonment for public protection—IPP—sentences, which were introduced under the previous Labour Government but ruled unlawful in 2007. Why are 3,300 prisoners still in prison having served their sentence? Many of them—51%—have served five years or more after their sentence and are still in prison to this day.

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Over time, more of those IPP prisoners are being released, but the Parole Board has to make a judgment in each individual case on whether there is a risk to society from releasing a particular individual. Those judgments can be difficult. Sometimes the Parole Board faces criticism when it does decide to release somebody in these circumstances. These matters have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

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Last year, almost half of prisoners held at HMP Birmingham were held in overcrowded cells, contributing to the crisis of violence that six months ago forced the Government to step in and take control away from G4S. On the last occasion I asked about this, the Minister of State was unable to give a response, so will the Secretary of State now confirm that he will not be handing HMP Birmingham back to G4S, and will he draw the obvious conclusion that privatisation has been a failure in our prison system?

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We will not hand HMP Birmingham back if it is not safe for us to do so. I am afraid that the attack on any involvement of the private sector in the prison system that we hear from Labour Front Benchers does not represent a balanced approach. We have to look at the successes that exist within the prison system, where the private sector has run very effective prisons. That cannot be ignored, notwithstanding the very real problems that exist, and have existed, with Birmingham.

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rose—

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Finally, before we move on to topicals, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is an extraordinarily senior and distinguished denizen of the House, but he will have to be a little patient and he may get his chance in due course, queuing up with the rest. Meanwhile, he will, I am sure, celebrate the success of his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone).