The Government is being urged to consider a moratorium on prison building to give it time to develop an effective penal policy. The call has come from the Prison Reform Trust, which said that with ministers facing tough choices, reversing the unaffordable trend in ever expanding prison numbers should be an urgent priority.
In a briefing the Trust said that the last time Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, was in charge of prison and penal policy, when he was Home Secretary, the average prison population was 44,628. The latest figures from the Prison Service showed that prison numbers for England and Wales now exceeded 85,000. France, with the same population, had 59,655 prisoners and in Germany, where there are 20 million more people, the prison population is 72,043.
The Trust is arguing that allowing prison population to continue to ‘spiral out of control’ in the current climate would be a form of economic madness. Each new prison place, it said, cost 170,000 pounds to build and maintain. Meanwhile the National Audit Office had estimated that re-offending by all recent ex-prisoners cost the economy between 9.5 billion and 13 billion pounds a year. A moratorium would give the Government time to learn lessons from abroad and to encourage local authorities, voluntary organisations, police and probation services to work together to develop community solutions to crime.