Prison Policy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:53 am on 25th March 2008.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 11:53 am, 25th March 2008

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone on another excellent speech, which was, as ever, well researched. He is one of the politicians in this place whom I most admire, for his dedication and hard work.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend established a few facts that are not usually given much publicity, such as that the number of people in prison in this country as a proportion of crimes committed is low—a figure that is not usually quoted—and that prison works. As my hon. Friend said, the Government admit, in their quarterly report, "Reoffending of Adults", that the longer people spend in prison the less likely they are to reoffend. Reoffending rates are highest among those people who spend the least time in prison.

It is a surprise that prison is so successful in reducing reoffending, given the points that I made earlier about how cushy it can be. I am all for rehabilitation, and I certainly take the points that Mr. Drew made, but I should like the Minister to explain how giving 1,500 prisoners Sky TV in their cells, not in communal areas, helps their rehabilitation. There are lots of hard-working, decent people in my constituency who would love Sky TV and cannot afford it. They think, as I do, that it is outrageous that although they—decent, law-abiding people—cannot afford it, 1,500 people who have either persistently committed crimes or committed serious crimes have Sky TV in their cells.

There is a crisis of confidence about the criminal justice system in this country. I guarantee that if someone were to commit a serious crime, and I were to go to my local pub and tell someone there, "Did you know that that chap got five years in prison?" the first reply from one of my constituents would be, "Well, he'll be out in five minutes anyway. It doesn't make any difference." That is the level of people's confidence in the criminal justice system, and it is why I think it important, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, that prisoners should serve in full the sentence handed down by the court. We must have honesty in sentencing, and someone who is given five years in prison should serve five years. People should be kept in longer for bad behaviour, not let out early for good behaviour. When I went to school, if I behaved properly I was allowed to leave on time; if I misbehaved, I was given detention. I have no idea why the same principle cannot apply to prisons.

I want to touch on the question of short prison sentences. I shall gloss over some of the more cushy prison arrangements that irritate me, such as the one announced by the governor of Wakefield prison, near my constituency, just before Christmas: that the prison officers would go round the prison at night in slippers, so as not to wake the inmates. I cannot really relate to that kind of approach. I want to talk particularly about prison sentences given by magistrates. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, when I took part in the parliamentary police scheme I asked police officers what would happen if the top 10 or 20 persistent offenders were sent to prison, and I was told that the crime rate locally would be reduced by 50 per cent. or even up to 90 per cent. It is clear that the police are for ever chasing the same people.

The majority of people who are sent to prison by magistrates have a drug addiction, and addiction fuels a lot of crime. People commit crimes to pay for their addiction, and a few people commit tens or even hundreds of crimes a week to do that. As hon. Members know, the maximum sentence that a magistrate can give for one offence is six months in prison. If someone pleads guilty, a discount will be given for that; probably a third will be knocked off, leaving a sentence of four months. We know that probably no more than half the sentence will be spent in prison, so magistrates really give maximum sentences of two months in prison. Someone who is a drug addict and who goes to prison will come out two months later still a drug addict, to return to where they lived before, meet the same groups of people they mixed with, and keep committing the same crimes. I do not see who benefits from the practice of continually letting drug addicts out of prison while they are still addicts. It is a pointless exercise that does nothing for them, their community or their families, who are usually tearing their hair out at the prospect. We must keep such people in prison for longer, until they demonstrate that they are off drugs. Otherwise, they will keep on committing crimes.

It might be argued that drug treatment and testing orders are the way forward, but I am led to believe from Home Office reports that the reoffending rates are far higher than those associated with prison. I think that the reoffending rate for people given drug treatment and testing orders was 88 per cent., which is virtually 100 per cent., as it represents the ones who got caught. That is not the solution. Prison is the solution. My contention is that some of the people in question should be sent to prison for longer, which would do more than anything else to reduce the crime rate and would restore some confidence in the criminal justice system.

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair.]


Tom Duff
Posted on 3 Apr 2008 7:19 pm (Report this annotation)

At last! A member of parliament in touch with reality, who applies common sense and understands the real issues. I am a serving police officer and regularly investigate the same people time and time again. We catch them; if we are lucky, we charge them, if we are luckier, and we convict them; we appear to have hit the jackpot. The prize? A few weeks later, if they haven't been given a "Community sentence", they are released from prison to start all over again. This Government saddles us with bureaucracy and targets. If we didn't spend so much time on THE SAME offenders, we would have more time to target anti-social behaviour, there would be fewer crimes, fewer victims, fewer forms to fill in and a significant decrease in the fear of crime. Law and order is not rocket science. Make the punishment fit the crime, others will not see it as the easy way out so fewer people will be tempted by it. The tax payer would pay less to greedy lawyers and the £24,000,000 bill for interpreters would be significantly reduced. Dare I suggest it, but by then we could possibly reduce the number of police officers and channel the funds into new prisons. Let's have some common sense and get rid of the Human Rights Act in its current form. It's more like an offender's charter. This country will inevitably reap what this Government has sown. Hopefully by then I will be in another country following many of my colleagues who are dismayed at the state of our criminal justice system.