MPs point to strain of prison overcrowding

Prison overcrowding called into focus
Prison overcrowding called into focus

The prison overcrowding crisis is causing more prisoners to undergo inappropriate rehabilitation, opposition politicians have claimed.

There has been a significant increase on the number of tagged prisoners going on to commit crimes, an investigation by a Conservative MP has found.

Grant Shapps, the MP for Welwyn and Hatfield, claims this rise is the result of inappropriate prisoners being released early under the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme, in response to a rising prison population.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats claims that prison overcrowding is forcing the government to house prisoners in court cells, at a cost of more than £1,800 a night.

Mr Shapps found an average of seven crimes a day were being committed by prisoners released early under the HDC scheme.

Through tabling parliamentary questions Mr Shapps discovered nearly one in nine tagged prisoners were accused of a crime in 2006. This compares to one in 40 when the scheme was launched in 1999.

Mr Shapps argues that prison overcrowding is putting pressure on the government to release unsuitable prisoners.

When HDC was launched in 1999, prisoners were only released 60 days before the end of the custodial part of their sentence, but in 2003 this was increased to 135 days.

"It's now very clear that the prison population crisis has led to thousands of additional crimes by prisoners who have been selected for electronic tagging and thereby released too early from prison," Mr Shapps said.

The Ministry of Justice claims that lengthening the duration of HDC would inevitably have increased the number of prisoners re-offending.

Nevertheless, a department spokeswoman insisted the new ministry takes breaches "very seriously".

"Enforcement of HDC conditions is swift and effective and in cases where we are notified of prisoners being charged of further offences, we initiate their recall immediately," she said.

"The vast majority of those curfewees whose licences are revoked by the secretary of state are quickly arrested and returned to custody."

Some 137,000 prisoners have been released under HDC since 1999, at a cost of £342 million. Prisoners are fitted with ankle tags upon release and are obliged to meet a curfew.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have claimed that the government has used court cells to house prisoners 77 times so far this year, at a cost of £120,000.

With VAT taken into account, the Liberal Democrats claim this makes the practice more expensive than a night at the Ritz.

Home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "These figures show the voodoo economics of prison overcrowding.

"A standard prison cell is already extremely expensive, costing more than enough to keep an extra police officer on patrol. But now the overcrowding crisis is costing us so much we might as well be putting prisoners up in the Ritz."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson maintained that court cells are only used as a last resort when prison and police cells are "exhausted".


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