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This government’s disastrous prisons policy is putting the public at risk

1 August 2014

Data released yesterday lays bare the true scale of the growing crisis in our prisons. Suicides up 69 per cent in a year. Self-harm up 27 per cent since 2010. Serious assaults up 30 per cent, and the numbers absconding up 10 per cent in a year. One in five prisons rated ‘of concern’ – double the figure 12 months before. Sharp falls in courses to help reform prisoners. Hundreds of sex offenders no longer getting the courses they need to stop them re-offending.

Yet you wouldn’t have known this by what the Justice Secretary was doing yesterday. While he was off giving a speech way outside his own brief, his department slipped out this data. But if Chris Grayling hoped his speech would be a smokescreen, masking these damning statistics on his stewardship of the prisons system, he was spectacularly wrong. Many of today’s papers cover the deterioration in our jails. The Sun newspaper certainly didn’t miss how bad things are getting – its editorial said:

‘Mr Grayling’s priorities, regardless of his budget, must be the security of the public and prison officers – and the welfare of inmates. His department’s failing on all three.’

For many in and around the prisons system, yesterday’s stats weren’t a surprise. They’ve been warning of a growing crisis for some time, as have I. Just 6 weeks ago the Chief Inspector of Prisons warned:

‘…the situation is extremely serious and I am very concerned.’  

But the Government’s response was to deny there was a problem. Chris Grayling, ostrich-like, stuck his head in the sand. The lack of leadership is astonishing.

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I don’t doubt some of this is embarrassment, as this is a self-inflicted crisis. The government has closed down 18 prisons, many of which were rated good. Those new prisons which began construction under Labour and have opened in the last 4 years – Thameside, Isis and Oakwood – have underperformed and are deemed ‘of concern’ by the Ministry of Justice’s own rating system.

In fact, so many prisons have been closed that the system has gone from having 5,000 spare places to just a few hundred some weeks. Hundreds of prisoners have been put in police station cells; 600 emergency places were bought from private jails at a heavy cost to the taxpayer; and, most recently, 40 of the country’s most overcrowded jails were told to take even more inmates.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, last year £45million of taxpayers’ money was spent on sacking thousands of prison officers. Fast forward a year and the system is so short of staff that many jails are only kept going by bussing in officers who are willing to do overtime from other prisons. Reports of jails locking prisoners in their cells for most of the day are increasingly common. Now, out of desperation, millions is being spent to re-recruit staff previously sacked! You really couldn’t script worse incompetence.

Some will question why any of this matters. Well, 9 out of 10 of those behind bars will be out, walking the streets within a decade. No one wants them to return to a life of crime on their release. Prison rightly is a time of punishment. But it’s also for reform, with courses tackling behavioural problems or health issues, and education and training to give prisoners the skills they need for the outside.

But does anyone seriously think this kind of activity is happening when there’s chronic overcrowding, major staff shortages and violence and death is commonplace? The reality is that the prison crisis is completely of this government’s making and will do nothing to cut re-offending rates. It might even make things worse. That’s why it matters, because this government is putting the public’s safety at risk. 

Sadiq Khan is the Shadow Justice Secretary and Labour MP for Tooting.

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Show comments
  • civil serpant

    How is it right for Mr Grayling – Minister – who fiddles his expenses and promoted to run a Government Department??? Should have been prosecuted and incarcerated along with all his other mates…bet he would have set up his own library

  • jesseventura2

    And how many Pakistani immigrants filling our jails for drug dealing ,grooming,raping,knife crime,honor killing etc.etc.etc.

  • saffrin

    Put them to work, make them earn their keep.
    Rehabilitate their long hours work ethic.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Any particular reason for such an increase in prisoners needing housing, Mr. Khan? Any particular reason why this new crop of prisoners are more violent and regressive than in the old days?

  • Shorne

    I worked in the Criminal Justice system for 30 years, the last 13 in a civilian role in a large local prison. I am still surprised at how little the general public understands about prisons. For a start every year about 30,000 unconvicted people are remanded in custody, many of them will be acquitted or receive non-custodial penalties. Whilst the rules state they should experience a more relaxed regime this never happens due to staff shortages.
    I had colleagues whose full time job it was to work with other agencies to get prisoners deported. They were constantly hampered by the prisoners’ home countries refusing to accept their return and not co-operating in a process known as redocumentation.
    Radicalisation was a problem where I worked and nobody worked harder to counter it than the prison Imam.
    I would also like to put in a word for my former uniformed colleagues. Prison Officers (never call them Warders or Guards) only usually get into the media for negative reasons but I saw countless examples of sympathy and fairness and, often more than once a week, the saving of the lives of suicidal prisoners. I still bump into some of them since I retired and they are suffering from the mess successive governments have made of the system.

  • David Booth.

    Had Mr Khan and his Labour cronies not let millions of Eastern Europeans into the Country whilst they were in Office there wouldn’t be the pressure for prison places. Every other villain brought before the Courts appears to have a Eastern European name.

    • Holly

      Don’t forget the public sector workers, politicians, police, celebrities and journo’s.
      Is it any wonder that others are running off?

    • Mynydd

      Last year Mr Cameron’s let in over 220,000, of course these were all good upstanding and law abiding people

      • David Booth.

        I doubt very much if they are all “…good upstanding law abiding people”

  • anyfool

    Pointless attempts by Labour to create a crisis out of their own disastrous years in power.
    What we are now seeing is the results of serious mismanagement of every public service during Labours years.
    Every public service is now debased, from the civil service down to the bin men, that the Tories do not seem to be making progress, does not take away from the fact that Labour, stripped the country from top to bottom of any semblance of public duty as well as financial probity.
    The prison are full because of the inability to send foreign crooks home, and who is to blame for that, Mr Khan.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Ah poor little convicts don’t like hard time do they? Oh dear what a shame never mind!

    If Labour hadn’t presided over the doubling of Prison numbers in 10 years and had maintained a sensible sentencing policy instead of this ridiculous revolving door policy they adhered to during their 13 years of government
    (not to mention their ridiculous Human Rights Act that pampered prisoners and all time record levels of crime) we would not be in this mess in the first place.


    As ever our whiny impotent urban liberal elitists are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime!

    When it comes to Criminal Justice the first rule of politics applies:


  • Holly

    Nowt to do with the crooks then?
    Maybe if public sector workers, politicians, police, celebrities & journos didn’t keep clogging up the system there would be more money/spaces available

  • Aberrant_Apostrophe

    “The reality is that the prison crisis is completely of this government’s making…”

    So absolutely nothing to do with people breaking the law then? Or people breaking the hundreds of new laws that Labour introduced in their 13 years in control? Or the thousands of foreign prisoners we can’t deport because of Labour’s HRA?

  • Alexsandr

    well. mr kahn, what would you cut to pay for investment in prisons? Because your lot spent all the money prior to 2010,
    and have you examined the figures for non british prisoners? Now that may be something to do with Labours disgraceful immigration policy.
    so how do you think you speak with any credibility on this?

  • LadyDingDong

    I quite understand your concern for conditions in prisons Mr Khan given your best mate, the terrorist Babar Ahmad, has just been banged up (in the US where conditions may not be quite to his liking) and so many of your Labtard colleagues have had to endure our penal system at first hand. Perhaps you expect more of your mates and colleagues to serve at our Majesty’s pleasure?

    • John Dalton

      Quite! It’s Mr Khan and his party of open door mass immigration and bended knee to the religion of peace that is putting the public at risk! In fact, it’s due to Labour that our prisons are hotbeds of radicalism, our schools are being infiltrated, our children are being groomed on a massive scale in our major cities and we have thousands of people living within our midst who despise us! Still, everything’s rosy in metro-lefty la-la land…

    • Shorne

      Right then, Jonathan Aitken,Jeffrey Archer,Lord Hanningfield,Lord Taylor of Warwick, all Tories, all imprisoned.

      • Mynydd

        Look get it straight for once, it was all Labour’s fault that Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer, Lord Hanningfield, Lord Taylor of Warwick, were banged up, it wouldn’t have happened under a Conservative government.

        • Shorne

          Err…you are joking aren’t you.

    • itdoesntaddup

      Barbar, black sheep,

      Why does he keep trying to pull three bags of wool over our eyes?

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