Friday, April 04, 2008

Tories manifesto promise on jails

THE Tories are preparing a manifesto pledge to cut Britain’s booming prison population by offering prisons bonuses to cut re-offending rates.

While ministers expect the current prison population of 82,068 in Wales and England – itself above capacity – to rise to 100,000 by 2020, the Conservatives say they can reduce it to 76,000 by the same date.

Nick Herbert, the Conservatives’ prisons spokesman, said prisons would become independent “Prison and Rehabilitation Trusts”, with funding dependent on success in cutting re-offending rates.

Mr Herbert said overcrowding in prisons would be “formally ended” by 2016, with the number of prisoners down 1,000 by 2015 and down 6,000 by 2020.

The greater focus on reducing reoffending would lead to the reduction in prison numbers, he said, saying the scheme would pay for itself. About £257m a year could be saved by cutting re-offending rates, he suggested.

Government figures suggest half of all crime is committed by ex-offenders.

A Tory administration would also:

Introduce minimum and maximum sentences;

Give prison governors the power to decide when short-to-medium term prisoners are released;

Ditch the Government’s plans for three new “titan” prisons, building a series of smaller jails instead; and

End the early release scheme.

Mr Herbert told the Western Mail, “Every prison will be made a prison trust with a mission to reduce reoffending. They will be put on a tariff scheme; if they succeed in reducing reoffending there will be more money.

“It is a form of payment by results ... funded by money saved by not having to try and imprison that person.”

He said the target to reduce prison numbers was “modest” and rejected the idea it would be difficult to achieve.

“This is a totally different approach to the Government, who have created a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system,” he said.

The Welsh prison population stands at 2,762, a substantial rise from the 2000 figure of 1,923.

Mr Herbert said huge new Titan prisons, as proposed by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, were not the answer. “They would be the largest prisons in Europe; local prisons would be a better model.

“There is strong evidence that family links are an important component in reducing reoffending ... Titan prisons would by definition be further away from prisoners’ families.

“I am aware of the problem of there not being a prison in North Wales; it would be consistent with our policy that there should be.

“There should be local prisons.”

Latest figures reveal 1,050 prisoners have been released early from Welsh prisons since the Government introduced its early release scheme last summer.

The End of Custody Licence was introduced last year in the latest attempt to stem overcrowding.

The scheme, one of the first announced under Gordon Brown’s premiership, allows criminals to be let out of prison up to 18 days early.

Mr Herbert also attacked moves to keep prisoners in their cells for longer periods over the weekend to save money. The so-called “core day” changes come into force this weekend in the wake of a freeze in the prison service budget.

Visits by volunteer groups to prisoners will be cut as a result, according to a Prison Service memo, which also notes, “The core day is not just about making savings, it is also about standardising proceedings ... enabling consistency and predictability of provision across the prison estate. There is no money to fund these changes.”

The memo also recommends “careful local communication” with prisoners about the changes.

Mr Herbert said, “We have a situation where the Government is claiming to be focusing on rehabilitation when what they are doing is locking people away for longer periods of time.”


Let us hope the rhetoric will become reality

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