You know things are really bad when Doc Reid not only has to renovate his house all on his tod, but also grant an interview to Humphrys.
The prison places debacle has happened because for all the usual pie-in-the-sky reasons, Straw, Blunkers, and Clarke systematically ignored their own Home Office forecasts for prison numbers. Naturally Reid kicked off his shaky tenure by blaming them. But now- just like them- he's turned to blaming the judges:
"Projecting the prison population is never an exact science. Independent sentencing guidelines laid down that tougher post-release supervision of offenders should be balanced by a 15% reduction in sentence length. This has not materialised."
In other words, his predecessors didn't actually ignore the forecasts at all: they simply instructed the judges to reduce sentences to fit the availability of places. Which of course is exactly what Reid reiterated to the judges last week.
No wonder he's so pissed at being singled out for ridicule by the Sun etc. They've all been at it.
We have to build more prisons, obviously. But are there any quick fixes?
We could start by noting who's actually in prison right now.
In summary, we've opened 20,000 extra places since Labour came in- largely the result of M Howard's prison building programme- and they've all been filled. To find out how, I've taken a look at some HO stats (as always you have to take the stats you can actually track down on the HO's abysmal website).
In 1996 there were 55,000 prisoners in England and Wales. By December 2005 that had increased to 74,000. The most obvious thing that jumps out is that of the extra prisoners, fully half were from non-white ethnic groups, even though they only make up 8% of the overall population.
Today, non-white ethnics are more than four times more likely to be in prison than whites. Most of the difference is driven by blacks, who make up only 2% of our population, but 15% of our convicts: they are nearly 10 times more likely to be inside than whites.
So much, so BNP. But when you probe further, you find that a big chunk of that growth has been driven not by British blacks, but by foreign nationals.
6,000 of our extra convicts are foreign nationals, who now comprise 14% of our total prisoner numbers.
Now, obviously we don't go in for national, racial, gender, or any other form of crude profiling here on BOM, but I wonder if you can guess where those 10,000 unwanted guests of Her Majesty come from. Here's the top 6:
- Jamaica- 1564
- Nigeria- 890
- Ireland- 649
- Pakistan- 444
- Turkey- 294
- Somalia- 284
But the action point is surely this. None of these people are British citizens, and as convicted criminals who've abused our hospitality, there's absolutely no reason why they should continue to enjoy it. We owe them nothing.
British prisons are not only full, but at £40 grand pa per head, are ridiculously expensive. For foreign prisoners, there's no reason not to do that subcontracting deal with the Russians.
As the Major has been arguing for months, Russia has extensive and underutilised penal facilities, and would surely be grateful for both the employment and the foreign exchange. It would certainly be cheaper and easier than building new prisons here, and would immediately give us 10,000 places to use for home-grown cons.
It's pure win-win-win.