A piece in today’s Times by Richard Ford, Home Correspondent:
Two new jails are to be built, the prisons minister announced yesterday as he said that the government would come under pressure from longer and “more brutal” sentences.
Rory Stewart said that the Ministry of Justice was planning for the prison population to rise by about 10,000 to 93,000. Officials were working to a “worst-case scenario” because sentences were longer, offenders more prolific and, over the next 15 years, victims of crime were likely to demand tougher sentences for burglary and causing death by dangerous or careless driving.
He said that he would like to significantly reduce “if not eliminate” sentences of 12 months or less, but admitted that this may not apply to violent and sexual offenders. There is no legislative slot to introduce such a change.
David Gauke, the justice secretary, has urged judges to use sentences of under a year only as a last resort.
The two new prisons will be built on the sites of those that have closed at Glen Parva in Leicestershire and Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. They are part of the government’s £1.3 billion scheme to create up to 10,000 more prison places and Mr Stewart said that another four jails would be built in years to come. The jails, along with a block in the grounds of Stocken prison in Rutland, will provide 3,500 spaces.
Companies will be invited to bid to build and run the Glen Parva prison while Wellingborough will be built by the public sector but run by the private sector, the justice ministry said.
Mr Stewart told MPs on the Commons justice select committee that he hoped construction at Wellingborough would start by early next year.
Earlier he had told MPs that the prison service believed the recent fall in the inmate population, to its lowest level in eight years, was likely to be reversed because of longer sentences and more prolific offenders.
The public’s increasing suspicion of “perceived elites” would fuel demands for longer and “more brutal sentences”, he said. “That will express itself in more and more focus on victims. We can see this already in people coming forward all the time with more legislation. Probably the most dramatic example is going to be around sentences for people killed in car accidents, death by dangerous driving, death by careless driving.”
If someone is convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, the law does not consider that they killed with intent. However, last year ministers announced that the maximum sentence would be increased to life to reflect the seriousness of the crime.
“We are moving to a situation where victims are increasingly saying ‘If you kill someone, that feels to the victim like murder’, ” Mr Stewart said. “There will be a groundswell probably between now and 2030 for people saying ‘domestic burglary is an absolute taboo, we don’t tolerate domestic burglary’ and people are going to push for longer sentences on this.”
• Hundreds of female offenders will avoid jail under plans published today to cut the number of women in prison. David Gauke, the justice secretary, wants more female offenders to be given community sentences in place of jail terms of less than 12 months. As a test, five residential centres will be set up in which women at risk of a short prison sentence can live while they are rehabilitated. About 3,800 women are in prison in England and Wales.
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