Several MPs indicated an interest in the activity levels of prisoners yesterday. The most telling exchange was between Edward Garnier QC, MP for Harborough and Shadow Justice Minister, and David Hanson, a Minister of State in the Justice Department.
"Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): In July, the Government severely cut the amount of time that prisoners can spend working or learning to read and write, but even before that prisoners spent only three and a half hours a day, Monday to Friday, on purposeful activity. Does the Minister share my disappointment that, while the reoffending rate for ex-prisoners rockets and thus more victims of crime are created, the Secretary of State resorts to cheap soundbites about sentencing to disguise the Government’s incompetence in failing to provide real opportunities for offenders to turn away from crime through purposeful activity in prison?
Mr. Hanson: First, let me tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that crime overall is down some 39 per cent. since 1997. Reoffending figures have also fallen over the past six years, as he will see if he looks at the announcement that I made to the House in September. He mentioned the figures on purposeful activity by prisoners, which I set out earlier to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). Currently, in 2007-08, each prisoner spends some 25.3 hours per week on purposeful activity. That is a steady figure, but I am working to increase it and I know that I will have his support in doing so—although unfortunately a future Conservative Government, if there were to be one, would be unlikely to provide the necessary resources."
Few of us want prison to be a walk in the park (and certainly not literally). But it seem right that inmates should be able, indeed be expected, to fill their days purposefully. Literacy and numeracy classes, physical exercise, work programmes – all these require funding. Yet reoffending rates are still too high, and we should ask ourselves what is going on in our jails. And in some ways a full day is more demanding than sitting in a cell.
It is good to see Conservative MPs taking a genuine interest.