Labour admits sending too many to jail

Prison population reached record levels under New Labour
Prison population reached record levels under New Labour

By Ian Dunt

Labour has admitted that it sent too many people to jail while it was in power and failed to tackle reoffending.

In a speech marking out the start of a new crime policy for the opposition, Sadiq Khan, shadow justice secretary, will tell a Fabian Society/Prison Reform Trust event that the party will establish a new working group on punishment and rehabilitation.

"I feel it was a mistake to not focus more on the issue of reducing offending. We became hesitant in talking about rehabilitation and the merits of bringing down reoffending rates," he will say.

"A focus on rehabilitation and reducing reoffending was seen as being soft on crime, when in fact it is effective in reducing crime."

He will add: "We did send more people to prison and for longer. While we successfully reduced crime, we did not manage to reduce the prison population."

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, commented: "I welcome Sadiq Khan's admission that Labour got their prison policy wrong. Sending more people to prison is nothing to be proud of and the unnecessary use of prison exacerbates problems rather than solving them."

Ed Miliband first alluded to a reform of Labour's crime policy during his conference speech last year in which he suggested he would support Ken Clarke's efforts to reduce the prison population.

That move triggered an angry response from many New Labour grandees, who thought the coalition government was vulnerable to attacks from the right on law and order issues - especially given its plans to reform the DNA database.

Since then there has been little detail about the opposition's approach to Mr Clarke's plans, but today's speech reveals an embryonic Labour response. This seems to support the thrust of the justice secretary's thinking while focusing its fire on the effect of substantial cuts to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Mr Khan will warn that plans to hand rehabilitation measures to voluntary groups and private firms on a payment-by-results basis is threatened by 25% cuts to the MoJ's budget.

Any failure could trigger an attack from the Tory right, the shadow justice secretary will add.

Some right-wing Conservative backbenchers - always suspicious of Mr Clarke for his centrist pro-European views - want Mr Clarke replaced for a more authoritarian alternative, such as former home secretary Michael Howard.


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