With the government committed to reducing the female prison population, we can be certain that the 10,000 new prison beds will be occupied by men, increasing the proportion of prison places taken by men above the current 95 percent. A piece in today’s Sunday Times:
Boris Johnson will this week seek to burnish the Conservatives’ credentials as the party of law and order with plans for 10,000 new prison places and a shake-up of police stop-and-search powers to combat knife crime.
The prime minister today unveiled plans for a renewed prison-building programme as part of a domestic policy blitz to position his party for an autumn general election.
After the announcement that an extra 20,000 police will be hired to crack down on violent crime, Mr Johnson hopes that his £2.5bn prison reforms will underline a determination that those who fall foul of the law are punished.
The prime minister’s latest pledge is to create an extra 10,000 prison places by 2025. Under the plans, the Ministry of Justice will push through long-delayed proposals for a high-security mega-prison at HMP Full Sutton near York.
In 2016, the Conservative Party announced plans to create 10,000 new “modern prison places” by the end of the decade. It subsequently planned six new prisons, of which only three have been approved.
Tomorrow, the prime minister will invite police chiefs, judges and prison bosses to a round-table discussion on how to improve the criminal justice system.
During the Tory leadership campaign, Johnson committed to keeping serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer and said it was wrong that many were routinely released after serving half of their sentence.
Allies have also said that he will scrap plans made by David Gauke, the former justice secretary, to abolish jail sentences of six months or less for all but the most serious criminals. “There have been too many cases of dangerous criminals being released too soon, or leaving [prison] as an even more hardened criminal,” the source said.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, said: “More and better prison places means less reoffending and a lower burden on the taxpayer in the future.”
Britain’s prisons are operating at 97 per cent of capacity and there are fears that overcrowding is fuelling record violence and suicide.
Johnson is also expected to finalise plans to relax the rules on police officers’ use of stop-and-search powers. A stop-and-search trial, which began in April, involved seven police force areas where more than 60 per cent of knife crime occurs, including London, the West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Wales and Greater Manchester.
It made it easier to use so-called “section 60” checks, where for a limited period of time police officers can search anyone in a certain area to prevent violent crime. But critics say the policy disproportionately targets ethnic minorities and is often used without good reason.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home security, said extending Section 60 stop and search powers over the summer is a “tried and tested recipe for unrest, not violence reduction”.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, the prime minister said the “first duty” of any government was to protect the public. “We have the impression of a growing culture of insolence on the part of the thugs; and in the face of that sense of impunity — entirely misplaced — I believe the British public knows instinctively what we must do,” he said. “We need to come down hard on crime. That means coming down hard on criminals. We need to reverse the balance of fear. I want the criminals to be afraid — not the public.”
Under the government’s plans an existing pilot project, which allows police to deploy stop-and-search powers in an area without the authorisation of a senior officer, will be extended to cover an additional 8,000 officers in England and Wales.
Mr Johnson acknowledged the move would be controversial but said he believed it would have the backing of the parents of those children most at risk of getting caught up in knife crime. “We are making clear that the police can and should make use of their stop-and-search powers,” he wrote. “I know that left-wing criminologists will object. And, of course, it is right that stop-and-search should be done courteously and in accordance with the law.
“But I also know that the people who back this intervention most fervently are often the parents of the kids who are so tragically foolish as to go out on the streets equipped with a knife, endangering not only the lives of others but their own.”
The prime minister said the investment in the prison system — approved by the chancellor, Sajid Javid, — was “long overdue”. When police did catch violent criminals, he said that it was “vital they get the sentence they deserve”.
He wrote: “In the past five years, we have seen literally hundreds of convicted rapists who have come out of prison commit another sexual offence. This cannot go on. I am afraid that as a society we have no choice but to insist on tougher sentencing laws for serious sexual and violent offenders, and for those who carry knives.”
Ms Abbott said: “This draconian approach shows that Boris Johnson’s government has no real plans to invest in policing or a public health approach to tackling violent crime. They have opted to ‘appear tough’ instead of dealing with the root causes of crime.
“Evidence-based stop and search will always be a vital tool in preventing crime. But random stops have only poisoned police community relations.”
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results strikes most people as a mistake. We have been here so often before — most recently with Michael Gove promising and failing to build 10,000 more prison spaces in 2016.
“Announcing more prisons to make short term political capital is evidence free policy making, diverting attention from the real problems facing our prison and justice systems.”
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