Rising prisoner numbers cut crime, says Michael Howard

Posted On: 
27th December 2016

Crime has fallen because of the dramatic increase in the prison population in the last 20 years, according to former home secretary Lord Howard. 

Michael Howard giving evidence to a Lords committee
Parliament TV

The Conservative peer, who famously declared “Prison works” when in charge of the Home Office, hit back at a cross-party proposal that the number of inmates should be reduced sharply in an attempt to improve rehabilitation and tackle the soaring levels of violence and suicides in jails.

Former home secretaries Ken Clarke and Jacqui Smith, as well as former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, said the Government should aim to return the prison population back to its pre-1993 level of approximately 45,000.

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But Lord Howard said they had “barely recognised a crucial element in the debate: the effect of an increased prison population on the incidence of crime”.

In a letter to The Times, the peer said it would be “gravely irresponsible” to halve the population without considering the effect on crime.

The British Crime Survey recorded over six million crimes in its latest figures, compared to 19 million in 1995.

“This followed a period in which the rise in crime seemed relentless and inevitable,” Lord Howard said.

“There may well be reasonable arguments for some reduction in the present level of the prison population but the proposal to halve the population, without addressing the likely consequences for the crime rate, is gravely irresponsible.”

He reserved his strongest attack for Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow attorney general who endorsed the cross-party idea.

She told the BBC last week: "I don’t believe that the sum of human wickedness has doubled in my adult lifetime…I think the biggest factor in this doubling of the prison population has been the political arms race.”

Lord Howard responded to his fellow peer: “Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general, says she doubts whether there are more criminals in our society today than there were in 1993. She ignores the fact that since fewer of them were in prison, more were at liberty to pursue their criminality.”