Prisons

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 24 October 2023.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 3:10, 24 October 2023

This is a perfectly sensible measure. I support it, as I hope will the whole House. It is a modest measure that will not make a vast difference, but it is worth while and part of an overall very sensible package that the Justice Secretary announced. We must be honest: the pressure in our prisons is the result of decades of underfunding. All parties have responsibility for that. It is not a question of blaming one Government or another; there has been a long period of this. We must also level with the British public: whenever we in this House demand longer prison sentences, or to lock more people up, it comes at a cost to the public purse. We must be up front with the public. Locking someone up in prison is sometimes necessary for public protection, but it is also exceedingly expensive, at £45,000 to £47,000 or so per annum.

As well as introducing this discrete measure, and the other measures in the package announced last week, we must think seriously about who should be in prison. Prison ought to be for those who are a threat or who are dangerous, but as anyone who has dealt with the system will know—some of us have done so for most of our working life—many people in prison are there because of inadequacy or failures earlier along the track. There are failures in education or in mental health, failures in parenting or social services, and failures in a raft of other areas around addiction and so on. People are there because their life is in a mess. They have done wrong and committed crimes, and they certainly need a degree of punishment, but lengthy periods of prison are not the answer; that is a very expensive way of dealing with things. We have to use prisons sensibly, and be honest about the fact that a degree of rationing is required.

The SI takes a sensible approach, and as I think the Minister will confirm, it does not alter the requirement that a prisoner should have served at least half their custodial sentence prior to release. The pre-release custodial period—the punitive bit—is not changed by this measure, but once someone has gone past that, we can bring forward their release date by 18 months, rather than by 12 months. That is a modest and sensible proposal, but we need a serious debate later in this House about the right way to make use of an expensive, necessary, valuable, but very pricey institution.