Michael Howard, Home Secretary, said in a statement today: "Today the prison population reached 60,000. It is no coincidence that recorded crime has fallen by record amounts over the last four years at the same time that the prison population has risen. Locking up persistent and dangerous criminals stops them committing further crimes. It's the Government's responsibility to provide the prison space for those whom the courts decide to send to prison. That's why 8,500 new prison places will be made available by the year 2000.
"It is worth remembering that the vast majority of criminals receive non-custodial penalties. Prison should be, and is, reserved for the most serious and persistent offenders.
"For those sent to prison by the courts it is important to ensure that prison conditions are decent and that every effort is made to rehabilitate prisoners. This Government has done far more than the last Labour government to help achieve these objectives. Slopping out has ended. Cramming three prisoners into cells built for one has ended: in 1979 nearly 5,000 prisoners lived in these conditions. And the number of hours spent on prisoner education has doubled since 1979, far outstripping the increase in the numbers in prison.
"The next Conservative government also has a duty to make proper provision for the consequences of the Crime Act. Our White Paper on sentencing sets out plans to do just that. 12,600 new prison places would be made available by the year 2012 for this purpose. That is broadly the same rate of prison building as the government has actually achieved since 1979 so we have a clear and credible way of delivering our policy using the private finance initiative. It will cost more to lock up repeat rapists, armed robbers and professional drug dealers and burglars. But it is money well spent protecting the public. And it will mean many fewer victims in the future.
"Contrast this with Labour. They wrecked our plans for tough minimum sentences for persistent burglars and drug dealers. They believe that they were unjust to burglars and drug dealers. But even without these sentences there is a need for a significant number of new prisons over the next few years. Four contracts for new prisons will have to be awarded during next year to cope with increasing numbers.
"Labour cannot use the private finance initiative to build them because they are ideologically opposed to the private management of prisons. Jack Straw called the very idea 'morally repugnant'. So they would have to find around £180 million of public capital over the next three years to build them instead. The money isn't there. It is yet another black hole in Labour's plans. Jack Straw needs to answer now, this very day, how he would fill it."
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SOURCE The Conservative Party