In 1997 the average prison population was 61,470 (page 4). The population last Friday was 84,593 (DOC), a rise in just 12 years of more than 20,300. I can't seem to find any concrete figures on just what the total number of places available in 1997 was, but ministers themselves boast that they have created over 20,000 additional places, and the Prison Reform Trust agrees, noting in this year's Bromley report that the number of places has increased by 33% since the party came to power (page 5). By any yardstick, the creation of over 20,000 places is a massive increase. Labour's real success is that despite increasing the population so massively, there are still not enough places to go round, hence the early release scheme which the Sun and the Conservatives so decry without providing anything approaching an alternative solution. As statements of fact go, the Sun's claim that "Labour decided not to build more jails" could not be more wrong.
This coincided with ill-judged policies on late drinking, softening drug laws and over-reliance on cautions, all of which increased crime.
In actual fact, and predictably, levels of alcohol related crime have changed little. There is no evidence whatsoever that softening the drug laws, of which only the law on cannabis was briefly softened, increased crime, unless you count the massive rise in cautions given out for possession which may previously have resulted in someone going to court for having a tiny amount of resin in their position, wasting the time of everyone involved. Lastly, there is little evidence also that giving out more cautions increases the likelihood of re-offending. You can in fact probably narrow it down to two groups: those who would have re-offended regardless of the punishment they received and those for whom it was an aberration. The problem with cautions is the effect it has on the victims of the crime, and the implications for the justice in general, not that they increase crime.
The result? More criminals ought to be behind bars. But there is nowhere to send them.
Instead, jails and secure hospitals operate more as short-stay hotels.
Today The Sun reports on a murderer who hacked a mother and son to death but is on day release after just six years.
Not an exactly representative example: Gregory Davis pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, hence he is not a "murderer", as the leader claims. Psychiatrists now think that he has recovered to an extent to which he is not a danger to the public, on which I'm more inclined to trust them then I am the Sun.
Weekends out of jail for lags have trebled in the past two years.
Labour deny this has anything to do with easing prison pressure. But the facts speak for themselves.
Last year, 11,599 prisoners were let out for four-day breaks.In 2006 the figure was only 3,813.
Is the Sun on to something here? Not to judge by the figures themselves: the latest show that there is room for around 900 more prisoners currently; back in August 2006 (DOC), to pick one set of figures at random, there were only 700 spaces available. Indeed, in October 2006, Operation Safeguard was in effect, with prisoners being held in police cells. Surely if weekends out were meant to ease prison pressure there would have been more let out back in 2006 when it was much more desperately needed. Is it not more likely that these breaks, meant to help those shortly to be released to readjust to life outside as well as for general rehabilitation are being used more widely because of the relative success of doing so?
Labour's soft approach even makes life cosy inside:
Convicts at Chelmsford jail enjoyed a talent show.
And what a talent show it was! Costing a whole £1,500, it seems the kind of thing that might actually help prisoners once they are allowed back out into the real world, but the Sun seems to think that prisoners should spend their time either locked up in their "cushy" cells or sewing mail bags.
Convicted criminals should pay the price - not just as punishment but for the protection of the public. That is the contract on law and order between voters and Parliament.
Having broken that deal, Labour have no right to criticise the Conservatives when they vow to do better.
By the same token, the Sun has no right to criticise Labour when it can't even get the very basic facts about the party's record on crime right.