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Prison Estate: Reducing Costs

Volume 656: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2019

Although our real-terms spending on the prison estate has increased, we continue to drive efficiencies through to make sure that we can put as much money as possible into keeping our prisons safe, decent and secure. The best way of driving down costs is through technology, particularly video conferencing, which reduces the costs involved in moving people to and from courts; facial recognition technology, which has begun to deal with queues in visitor areas; and kiosks, which are overcoming some of the challenges around logistics supply.

I thank the Minister for that considered answer, but may I ask him to assure me and the House that, in his efforts to reduce the cost of the estate on the taxpayer, he will not scrap short sentences, given that 4,300 knife-wielding criminals last year would have remained on our streets?

First, I make it absolutely clear that no decision on sentencing policy will be driven by anything other than public protection. That is the key in any sentencing decision. Secondly, I make it absolutely clear that we are fully behind the Home Secretary and the work that is being done on knife crime and we want to make sure that judges have the full powers at their disposal to deal with people who are wielding knives.

Will the Minister confirm to the House that he will not go cold on the Justice Secretary’s pledge to reduce short sentences? Short sentences and removing people from prison who will reoffend if they go to prison are the surest way to save money and to stop reoffending in the long term.

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, this is something that we are continuing to look at very carefully and we are continuing to learn both from what has happened in Scotland and the evidence that suggests, on the basis of a study of 130 different characteristics in 300,000 separate offenders, that people are more likely to reoffend with a short custodial sentence and therefore that tens of thousands more crimes are committed every year by the wrong use of a custodial sentence.

In seeking to reduce costs, will the Minister give a pledge not to cut corners? He is seeking to build a new prison in my constituency at Full Sutton, but the traffic assessment that has taken place is, I believe, deeply flawed. Will he look at that again? Even if it means extra cost, if he deems it is warranted, will he order a new traffic assessment please?

I absolutely undertake to look again at the traffic assessment and to sit down with my right hon. Friend to examine it in more detail together.

Previous cost cutting in the Prison Service such as reducing staff has proved to be a false economy. In Nottingham Prison, the prisons Minister has needed a surge of staff to try to stabilise what had become a very violent and dangerous prison. Can I have an assurance from him that, once things improve at Nottingham, those staff will not be withdrawn again?

Some of the staff at Nottingham, to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, have come from other establishments in other parts of the country, but when they return they will be replaced because we must ensure that Nottingham is fully staffed. That is essential particularly in order to continue with delivery of the key worker programmes so that each prison officer can be paired with six prisoners. That will be vital to getting violence under control in Nottingham.