Shami Chakrabarti sparks fresh Labour row after calling for end to jail term 'arms race'

Posted On: 
23rd December 2016

A fresh Labour row has erupted after Shami Chakrabarti blamed a "political arms race" for Britain's soaring prison population.

Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti
PA Images

The Shadow Attorney General said it was time for a rethink of sentencing policy after the number of inmates in UK jails doubled in the past 30 years.

That led to claims by some Labour MPs that the party risked being seen as soft on crime.

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Ms Chakrabarti also suggested that the privatisation of parts of the prisons estate had led to "commercial incentives" for locking people up for longer.

In an interview on Radio Four's Today programme, she said: "In the 80s we had about half the prison population that we have now.

"I don’t believe that the sum of human wickedness has doubled in my adult lifetime. Clearly there are issues around drug abuse in society, clearly there are all sorts of things that can contribute to spikes in the prison population. But I think the biggest factor in this doubling of the prison population has been the political arms race.

“And at least we have an opportunity now, I hope, with my colleague Richard Burgon, the Shadow Justice Secretary and Liz Truss, the new Justice Secretary, for a different kind of conversation and to ask some really serious questions about what is prison for, what do we want to achieve when we send someone to prison, what do we want the result to be."

The problems inside the UK’s jails was highlighted again overnight when approximately 60 inmates took control of part of a wing at HMS Swaleside in Kent – the fourth major incident in the last two months.

Baroness Chakrabarti said it was time to question whether it was right that companies were “profiting from incarceration”.

“I question whether there should be commercial incentives to lock up more and more people,” the Labour peer said.

Former Labour minister John Spellar quickly condemned Baroness Chakrabarti.



Another Labour MP told PoliticsHome: "Today we had the third part of the Shami trilogy - 'Yes to more criminals on the streets' following 'Why its OK to send my kid to a private school' and 'No anti-Semitism in Labour'."

But Baroness Chakrabarti was praised by Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.



In response to the Swaleside incident, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Government would be “culpable for the violence that is likely to follow” if it fails to take action to reduce prisoner numbers and improve rehabilitation.

It comes after Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke and Jacqui Smith this week made a cross-party plea for a political drive to reduce the prison population back down towards the levels of the 1980s, before then-home secretary Michael Howard declared: “Prison works.”