"At present 17,000 prisoners are doubling up in cells—twice as many as when the Government came to power. Will the Government’s proposals reduce that overcrowding, and will the Secretary of State reject Carter’s recommendation that there is scope for increasing levels of overcrowding? The Secretary of State says that he is actively looking at securing a prison ship. Why did the Government sell off their prison ship at a loss, if a new one is to be purchased?
…Is he sure that Lord Carter’s recommendation to build large titan prisons is right? Would it not be better to build smaller, local prisons where offenders could be closer to their families to aid rehabilitation? Is it not clear that although there will be some increase in capacity, the Government are choosing to release more prisoners early and water down sentences to moderate demand?
We Conservatives believe that sentences should fit the crime, not jail capacity. Will not any proposal to fetter the discretion of judges and magistrates to hand down sentences as they see fit cause the gravest concern?
…The Secretary of State proposes greater use of community sentences as an alternative to prison, but prison is already largely reserved for serious, violent and persistent offenders. Is it not the case that 70 per cent. of prisoners released have 10 previous convictions? Prison is already the last resort, when community sentences have failed. Some 40 per cent. of unpaid work requirements for male offenders are not even completed. How can the public have confidence in community penalties as an alternative to prison when the sanctions are so weak and unenforced?
…The Secretary of State’s statement said almost nothing about improving the rehabilitation of offenders. What do the Government plan to do about the fact that prisoners still spend fewer than four hours a day engaged in purposeful activity? Any Government’s first duty is to protect the public. How can the Government claim to have done so, given that they have released 11,000 offenders early on to our streets in just four months?"
More from Hansard here.