Labour proposes to relieve pressure on prisons by unblocking planning process

Labour has set out plans to relieve pressure on prisons by unblocking the planning process and boosting the prison building programme.

The party said the prison estate is “bursting at the seams” due to inaction and mismanagement by the Conservative Government.

Earlier this year, chief constables were urged to take fewer suspects into custody amid overcrowding in jails.

This followed plans to expand the early release scheme and let some inmates out of jail up to 70 days early to free up cells.

In a further law and order offering, the party wants to set up 80 new specialist rape courts across and England and Wales to fast-track cases as part of plans to tackle violence against women and girls that will be included in Labour’s manifesto this week.

It will also comprise a pledge to introduce specialist rape units in every police force, where staff trained to deal with domestic abuse will work with victims, The Observer reported.

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said unblocking the planning process would stop the “powder keg waiting to explode” behind bars.

The Tories had previously promised to deliver 20,000 new prison places, and 6,000 have been created so far. Labour said it would ensure the delivery of the remaining 14,000.

The plans also suggest prisons will be designated as sites of national importance, placing the power to approve a planning decision in ministers’ hands.

Ms Mahmood said: “The crisis in our prisons is a powder keg waiting to explode. Worse still, we never had to get to this point.

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood
Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood (Peter Byrne/PA)

“The dangerous overcrowding of our prisons was foreseeable and avoidable, but this Government has not had the will or courage to act.

“A Labour government will turn the page on 14 years of Conservative chaos and confront the difficult decisions that this Government has dodged.

“We will build the prison places they promised but never delivered and we will drive down reoffending. I am determined to fix the prisons crisis for the long term, not just push back disaster by another day, week or month.”

The party is also proposing to bring together prison governors and local employers to create employment councils to drive down reoffending, link offenders to training and jobs, and reduce the burden on capacity in the long term.

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “The last Labour government let 80,000 criminals out early and failed to build the prisons they promised.

“Labour under Keir Starmer has continued to vote against more resources for our police and tougher sentences.

“Under the Conservatives, we are overseeing the largest expansion to the prison estate since the Victorian era, delivering 13,000 new prison places keeping criminals behind bars.”