Andrew Selous, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, has apologised to the House of Commons on behalf of the Ministry of Justice for understating the level of prison overcrowding each year since 2008-09. More worrying still, Mr Selous continues to write, “These incorrect figures have in turn informed public statements from the Ministry of Justice, including statements to Parliament.”
A major inquiry by the Justice Select Committee into prisons planning and policy prior to the general election revealed the huge strain that the system is under, as well as the disastrous impact of government reforms on performance and safety. The inquiry found that “a growing number and proportion of prisons are operating well over their baseline.” At the end of March 2014, the report notes, 77 of the 119 prisons in England and Wales were classified as overcrowded; by December 2014 this had risen to 83 of the 117 prisons.
As we blogged previously, the former Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling seemed quite untroubled by the significant rise in the prison population. Grayling told the Justice Committee in their inquiry, “It means prisoners sharing a cell…if prisoners have to share a cell in order to make sure they can go to prison, this is not a great problem.” The outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick was not of the same opinion, saying in his evidence to the committee that overcrowding is a “real problem…In some places, two men are in what is essentially a large toilet designed for one, and often in very squalid conditions.
One further issue alluded to by the committee was the fact that new prisons were being built which were fully intended to be overcrowded, due to a current shortage of prison places – an issue which the Prison Governors’ Association and Nick Hardwicke called ‘institutional overcrowding’. The National Audit Office (NAO) found that this was the case with the building of HMP Thameside.
The apology by Andrew Selous reveals that the crisis in the prison system is much worse than the former government portrayed. Now that the extent of overcrowding is more properly acknowledged by the government, they should address the very serious points outlined by the Justice Select Committee, and implement a review looking at overcrowding, prison closures and the impacts of privatisation on services and workers.
To see the written statement by Andrew Selous MP, please click this link: http://bit.ly/1TdxfeL