The UK Government responded to a recent Justice Committee report, Prison 2020, that they would produce a new prison strategy. However, when I pressed the Prison’s Minister on when this strategy would be published she couldn’t tell us even a rough date. I worry that we are seeing more can kicking on prison reform and safety.
I also pointed out that the £156m spending pledge by the government on prison refurbishment is welcome, but it falls far short of the £900m backlog of maintenance issues. Unsafe prisons increase volatility of prisoners and increase reoffending rates. We urgently need investment into our justice system.
The Justice Select Committee, this week, was able to question the Secretary of State for Justice and the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry on a wide variety of subjects.
I used my series of questions to focus on the promises made by the Prime Minister on new prison places. As you can see from the exchange it was extremely difficult to get a straight answer from the Secretary of State with him preferring to talk about places lost and his hopes to keep all current prisons opened.
I was able to ask a lot more questions and you can watch the full session here: https://tinyurl.com/y6ss2uqd
The new Minister of State for Prisons was before the Justice Select Committee this week and I wanted to grill him on wasted taxpayer money through the privatisation of probation services.
The National Audit Office undertook a review into this failed experiment – started by the current Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP – and concluded that the Ministry of Justice has had to pump £467 million into the failed project to try and stabilise them.
You can see from my questioning that the Minister and his civil servants were very uncomfortable with these questions. There is obviously still more to learn on this. The Minister tried to hide behind his belief that the taxpayer has saved money because the services are being renationalised again. But this is a completely false way of looking at things. To make a comparison, if you moved out of your house you would stop paying the rent – meaning you make a saving – but you will still need to find somewhere else to live which will cost you rent. The same can be said for rehabilitation. We may no longer be paying the private companies to undertake the work, but we will still have to undertake it ourselves. But we lose the money we spent on private firms prior to renationalisation.
This has been a failed experiment that I voted against when it was first proposed in the 2010-15 Parliament. Our money has been wasted for dogma of private good, public bad. The UK Government should be ashamed.
The Ministry of Justice has faced some of the biggest cuts to its budget under the current UK Government and previous Coalition Government. To meet these cuts, amongst other things, they decided to close a large number of local courts.
I have always campaigned against court closures because justice must be handed out in our communities. We should not be expected to travel huge distances to ensure that those who have done wrong face the law.
At the Justice Committee meeting this week we had a number of witnesses before us from organisations like the Magistrates Association, the Criminal Bar Association and the Criminal Law Committee of Birmingham Law Society. These are people with great experience of what court closures mean.
During my questioning I wanted to know if they have been consulted by the UK Government following the closures. As you can see the response is damning. Ignoring experts ensures that policy is bungled and mistakes are made. The Ministry of Justice must sit up and listen to the Select Committee evidence and take action to ensure access to courts and law is not further undermined.