‘Impossible’ to say Government will stop early release of prisoners – Starmer

It is “impossible” to say the Government will stop the early release of prisoners, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Prime Minister’s comments at a press conference at Downing Street on Saturday come after prison governors last week warned that jails could run out of space within days, putting the public in danger.

The Prison Governors’ Association (PGA), which represents more than 95% of all prison governors and managers working in England and Wales, said the entire criminal justice system “stands on the precipice of failure” as it called on the next government to tackle problems “without delay”.

Sir Keir said: “We’ve got too many prisoners, not enough prisons.

“That’s a monumental failure of the last government on any basic view of government to get to a situation where you haven’t got enough prison places for prisoners, doesn’t matter what your political stripe, that is a failure of government.

“It’s a failure of government to instruct the police not to arrest. This has not had enough attention, in my view, but it’s what happened.

“We will fix that, but we can’t fix it overnight and therefore it is impossible to simply say we will stop the early release of prisoners and you wouldn’t believe me if I did say it.”

The Prime Minister was questioned about comments made by James Timpson, the new minister of state for prisons, parole and probation, during an interview with Channel 4 News earlier this year in which he said: “We are addicted to punishment. So many of the people who are in prison in my view shouldn’t be there.”

Asked if he agreed with Mr Timpson’s remarks, Sir Keir told journalists: “I’ve sat in the back of I don’t know how many criminal courts and watched people processed through the system on an escalator to go into prison.

“And I’ve often reflected that many of them could have been taken out of that system earlier if they’d had support, and that is why what we want to do with our youth hubs and on knife crime is really, really important, because I want to reduce crime.”

Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the press conference
The Prime Minister was questioned on prisons at a press conference following his first Cabinet meeting (Claudia Greco/PA)

The former director of public prosecutions added that if young people, particularly boys, are offered support at a “point of intervention” in the early teenage years, it could ensure some of them “do not get on that escalator” to imprisonment.

In an open letter to the leaders of political parties, the PGA said: “Our members are the experts in running prisons, their voice and our message, if ignored, will be at your peril.”

The association believes there is “no other option open” to government than to release more prisoners early to grip the “crisis”.

In a report published earlier this year, Whitehall’s spending watchdog found overcrowding in prisons is now “one of the biggest obstacles” to cutting the courts backlog.