Prison Capacity

Justice – in the House of Commons at on 21 November 2023.

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Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Independent, Blackpool South

What steps he is taking to increase the number of prison places.

Photo of Gary Sambrook Gary Sambrook Conservative, Birmingham, Northfield

What steps he is taking to increase prison capacity.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

This Government have embarked on the biggest prison building programme since the Victorian era, to create 20,000 modern, secure, rehabilitative places. To date, we have already delivered 5,600 places, a third prison at HMP Millsike is under construction, and last week we secured outline planning permission for our fourth prison, near the existing HMP Gartree in Leicestershire.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Independent, Blackpool South

I welcome the delivery of 20,000 additional prison places, as well as plans to deport some foreign criminals, rather than jailing them here in the UK. That will free up spaces and deliver considerable savings to the taxpayer. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to work with the Home Office to mitigate the risk of legal challenges as we seek to deport some of those who may pose a risk to the public?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Between January 2019 and March 2023, 14,700 foreign national offenders were served with deportation orders and removed. As he has indicated, we have expanded the early removal scheme to allow for the removal of FNOs up to 18 months before the end of the custodial element of their sentence, so that we can bring forward the deportation of criminals who should not be here. On his specific point, we work closely with the Home Office to ensure that the right people and processes are in place to resist legal challenges.

Photo of Gary Sambrook Gary Sambrook Conservative, Birmingham, Northfield

I welcome the measures that my right hon. and learned Friend has outlined to increase prison capacity to its largest ever, but he will recognise that capacity in prisons needs to come with capacity in staffing in order to make it a reality. Will he update the House on the progress made so far, particularly in the midlands and Birmingham?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is such a champion on this issue. He is right, and to increase the number of staff we have increased pay, accepting the recommendation of the independent pay review body in full. That means an increase of 7% for band 3 to band 5 officers, which is wing officers up to custodial managers. We are also backing our officers with the roll-out of body-worn videos for every officer on shift, as well as PAVA spray in the adult estate. The net result is that the resignation rate is down significantly. That means more people remaining on the wings, improving the quantity and quality of our prison places overall.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

May I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Laura Farris, to her well-deserved place on the Treasury Bench? As well as expanding prison capacity, has the Secretary of State looked at the possibility of investing in women’s centres? That was part of the Government’s female offender strategy, but it also has a proven track record in cutting reoffending?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about my hon. Friend. Yes, absolutely; where the court determines that an alternative disposal is appropriate, we are keen for non-custodial options to be available. That is why we are investing heavily in alternatives. There are cases where women offenders must go to jail, but where that is not necessary we want to ensure that alternatives remain so that rehabilitation can take place in the community.

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

Now that the Government have left themselves with no choice but to send fewer people to prison and let more out early because there is simply no space for them, how many convicted criminals are currently on bail awaiting sentence, compared with this time last year? When do the Government expect normal service to resume?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am proud of the fact that, unlike the previous Government, we are rolling out a prison expansion programme—something that entirely defeated the Labour party when it was in office. Labour said it was going to roll out three Titan prisons. How many did it produce? Absolutely none. On bail, it is the case that the number of those awaiting trial is higher, and up by 6,000 compared with the pre-covid period. That is why this Government are expanding capacity on the estate. We have 1,000 more judges, we are increasing the amount of legal aid, and we are ensuring that when people come to be sentenced, unlike under the Labour Government, they are going to prison for longer.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

The Secretary of State’s emergency early release scheme is meant to tackle a capacity crisis that is entirely of this Government’s making, and it excludes only serious violence. Surely domestic abuse and stalking are serious offences, yet they are not excluded from early release. What kind of signal does that give to victims, the public, and indeed perpetrators of violence against women and girls?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We are proud that under this Government sentences for offences such as rape have gone up by a third. We have a situation in which charges are up, the conviction rate is higher and sentences are longer—and, unlike under the Labour Government, people are spending a higher proportion of those sentences in custody. We think that is the right thing to do. To the hon. Member’s point, the exclusions in place go beyond what he indicated, so he is factually incorrect; they also include sex offences and terrorist offences. Here is a really important point: where the custodial authorities are satisfied that there is a specific risk, there is an opportunity to ensure that release is blocked. That is important, because we will always stand up for victims of crime.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)

Argument weak? Go long and do not answer the question—the classic response from this Government. The truth is that without any Government announcement of a start date, prisons began releasing offenders over a month ago. These men are already walking our streets, but the Government will not tell us how many, or why they were behind bars in the first place. Why do the Government not believe that the public deserve to know who is being released back into the community when a court decided that they should be in prison?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We will make whatever appropriate announcements in due course; we will not demur from that. We will also not apologise for having, under this Government, a higher custodial population than before. We are taking robust steps to ensure that the public are protected, which means unashamedly that those who commit the most serious offences—those such as murder in the context of sexual or sadistic conduct—go to prison for the rest of their lives. Will the hon. Member support that? I wonder. We are also using the evidence so that those capable of rehabilitation are rehabilitated. One thing that we will not ever put at risk is the threat to women and girls. As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Laura Farris, indicated, we have taken steps to ensure that victims of domestic abuse will be properly protected under the Government.