Labour pledge planning law move to boost prison places

A prison cell (file pic)
[Getty Images]

Labour has announced it would build more prisons in England by allowing ministers to bypass the traditional planning process, if it wins the general election.

Under its plans, prisons would be designated sites of "national importance" on public safety grounds - placing the power to green-light planning applications solely in ministers' hands.

The party said the policy would help it create the 20,000 prison places the Conservative Party has promised but not yet delivered.

The Conservatives attacked Labour's record and said the government had overseen the "largest expansion to the prison estate since the Victorian era."

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said Labour's proposals were designed to tackle "dangerous overcrowding" in UK prisons.

Labour said the situation meant fewer criminals were being arrested, court hearings were being delayed and criminals were being released from prison early.

Last month an early release scheme aimed at tackling overcrowding was extended to allow some prisoners to be released up to 70 days early.

Asked if a Labour government would continue the scheme, Ms Mahmood said the government had not released all the figures relating to it.

"It would be irresponsible for me from opposition, without seeing the data about the number of offenders that have been released or having all of that information, to make those decisions now," she told the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme.

Pressed over how Labour would address prison overcrowding without tax rises, Ms Mahmood said this was "not a money problem" as funding had already been allocated for 20,000 prison places but the government had not delivered this.

"It’s actually a failure of the government because they’ve allowed the planning system to get in the way and they’ve allowed complaints from their members of Parliament, backbenchers in particular, to stop any building in our country," she said.

She added that while more prison places were needed because of "a capacity crisis", it was also important to cut reoffending rates alongside this.

In an attempt to do this, Labour has also outlined proposals for "Employment Councils" encouraging prison governors to work with local employers to secure training and jobs for prisoners.

The Conservatives had promised to create 20,000 "modern and innovative prison places" by the mid-2020s.

But as of April this year, the Ministry of Justice said it had only delivered roughly 5,400 additional places.

Labour said its proposals would help create the remaining prison places - roughly 14,000 - to reach the Conservatives' original target.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party hit back against the plans, saying the last Labour government "let 80,000 criminals out early and failed to build the prisons they promised".

The spokesperson added that the Tories were delivering 13,000 new prison places.

Last year, the Liberal Democrats called for "comprehensive" prison reform, including the improvement of rehabilitation services in prisons and a "presumption against" short custodial sentences.

The Green Party has said in the past it would introduce social policies to tackle what it considers to be the root causes of crime, such as poverty, inequality or drug addiction.