Cameron promises new prison places and ‘reparations’

Almost everything about the prison system is wrong, the Conservative leader proclaimed today.

Attacking the government’s record on criminal justice, David Cameron said he would boost capacity by building 5,000 more places and insure offenders serve tougher minimum sentences before they can be eligible for parole.

The Conservatives’ plans would be in addition to the 15,000 extra places already promised by the government and would bring the total prison capacity in England and Wales above 100,000.

Last week, the prison population hit a record high of 82,180.

Labour dismissed the pledge as more uncosted promises from the Conservatives.

But in wider-reaching reforms, Mr Cameron also promised to change the way prisoners serve the sentences, with a mix of longer sentencing and more focus on rehabilitation.

He set out plans for “min-max sentences”, where judges set a minimum jail term and prison governors then decide when prisoners can be released based on their behaviour.

Since the 2004 Criminal Justice Act, anyone serving less than four years for a non-violence crime will serve half of their sentence in the community.

“Today, I think almost everything with the system is wrong,” Mr Cameron told BBC Breakfast.

He explained: “A criminal goes to court – they are told they have got a four-year sentence and they are let out after two, so everybody feels cheated.

“We are going to change that and say the judge should read out what we call the ‘min-max’.

“And then the prisoner has to earn release through good behaviour, through hard work, through making reparations to their victims.”

Anyone not attempting to be rehabilitated or quit drug use would stay in prison for longer, he added.

Mr Cameron also called for more meaningful work in prison – with inmates forced to pay a proportion of their earnings as reparations to their victims.

The Tory leader continued: “The real emphasis on it is actually turning prisons into places not where we just warehouse prisoners and bang them up for 23 hours a day in their cell.

“But they should be places of work, of rehabilitation and of reparation, so that the work prisoners do, means that they can pay money back to their victims – these are really important policies.”

Prison minister David Hanson said the policy was a copy of Labour’s own plans and “yet another uncosted spending commitment” from the Tories.

He said Mr Cameron had come forward with proposals “which don’t have any relevance to the current building programme, and which I don’t believe they will deliver in due course.”

But the Prison Reform Trust welcomed the intervention, arguing prisons had been “allowed to rot in a policy vacuum”.

Director Juliet Lyon said: “Now the Conservatives are turning the spotlight on our most neglected and least visible public service, this government must reach beyond party politics and, instead of arguing about who can spend most money on more jails, it should establish a royal commission on the nature and purpose of imprisonment.”