Prisons crisis ‘worse than thought’ warns Starmer, with no guarantee on early release for dangerous criminals

The prime minister voiced concern that police were being told not to arrest people due to overcrowding  (PA)
The prime minister voiced concern that police were being told not to arrest people due to overcrowding (PA)

Sir Keir Starmer has said that an urgent plan is to be brought forward next week to tackle overcrowding in prisons after saying conditions are “even worse” than Labour had feared.

The new prime minister said the state of Britain’s prisons was a major shock when his new government got to look at the books after winning the election last week.

Sir Keir was unable to guarantee that dangerous criminals would not be released early, although he ruled out sexual offenders and child abusers.

Speaking to journalists on the plane to the Nato summit in Washington DC, he was asked whether he was surprised when he opened the financial books. But he answered that prisons are the bigger issue.

He said: “Some of what we’ve found is shocking, not so much about the finances but I have to say, on prisons, the situation is worse than I thought it was.

“I’m pretty shocked that it’s been allowed to get into that situation. It’s reckless to allow them to get to that place. We’ll be saying more about that in short order.”

New prime minister Sir Keir said he was shocked by the situation in prisons (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)
New prime minister Sir Keir said he was shocked by the situation in prisons (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Archive)

On a report in the next week, he said: “We’re going to have to set out the state of affairs – what we intend to do about it – but it will include this question for risk categories.”

It was an issue he pursued his predecessor Rishi Sunak over, highlighting a case of someone facing early release who is a danger to children.

He is concerned that the police are being told not to arrest people because there is no space in the prison estate and that there may need to be many early releases.

Labour blames the failure to build new prisons by the previous government.

However, Sir Keir has also just appointed a new prisons minister, James Timpson, who believes only a third of prisoners should be in jail.

Sir Keir said: “I did press Rishi Sunak hard, I think, in relation to someone being released from Lewes prison, if I remember, because there was a threat, considered a risk to children.

“So we will set that all out when we make a statement in coming days, but you know from my question to Mr Sunak, when he was prime minister, where I stand on this.”