Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12th July 2004.
In how many prisons the population was in excess of the certified normal accommodation on the latest date for which figures are available; and by what percentage the prison population has changed over the past 10 years.
There were 81 prisons operating above their certified normal accommodation figure on
The official figures for June, which are published in the weekly review—although the Government have not published figures since 2002–show that 82 of the 141 prisons were above their certified uncrowded capacity, and 11 were operating above their maximum capacity. In Preston and Leicester, overcrowding was classified as 89 per cent. and 83 per cent. Given those facts, is there not a crisis that has to be faced? In particular, will the Minister say why he believes that the number of women prisoners has increased by 173 per cent. in the past 10 years?
Eighty-one prisons are above their certified normal accommodation figure, which means that 57 prisons are not above that figure. There is no getting away from the fact that our prisons have been under huge pressure. One of the ways in which we deal with that pressure is by building additional places. That we have continued to do. The operational capacity as of today, is 76,395, which is an increase of more than 500 in recent months.
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the 173 per cent. increase in the number of women offenders going to prison over the past 10 years, but they were sent to prison by sentencers, not by the Government and not by Ministers. However, because of the Government's policies, I can tell him that the number of women in prison today is lower than it was this time last year.
Do the Government have a view of what should be the maximum overall size of the prison population? What signals should the Government be giving the judiciary on the appropriate use of imprisonment?
The Government have an idea about that figure. We believe that, if we rebalance our correctional system appropriately so that we ensure that those who need and deserve to be in prison because they have committed the most serious offences are in prison while those who have not committed such serious offences are on community penalties, we can hold a stable prison population below 80,000.
I welcome the Minister's genuine commitment to trying to get to grips with the scandal of overcrowding, but may I draw his attention to his own overcrowding targets for this year? They state that in publicly run prisons, overcrowding must not exceed 24 per cent. of the prison population, but in privately run prisons, the figure is 34 per cent. Will he tell the House why, on overcrowding, he has one target for public prisons, but an easier target for private prisons?
The private prisons tend to have more modern facilities than the older prison stock that the Prison Service has at its disposal, but the hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. What is most interesting is that, with our commitment to increasing the number of places available, by the end of this year we will have an operational capacity of 77,600, and by the end of next year it will be some 79,400. We are prepared to ensure that we have fit-for-purpose accommodation for those who are sent to prison by sentencers, but we are also building up the alternative, so that sentencers can confidently give people community sentences that are effective.
The Minister wants to have it both ways. Will he confirm that in order to rebalance the correctional system, as he puts it, and to save money, the Government are proposing to extend the home detention curfew scheme so that offenders serving seven years for drugs offences or street robbery can be set free early? Does he think that that policy will be popular with law-abiding citizens?
Yes, I do want it both ways. I want people who need and deserve to be in prison to be in prison, and I want those whose offences are less serious and are first-time offenders to be on community penalties, putting something back into the communities where they have offended.
I confirm now that this Government have no intention of extending the home detention curfew scheme.