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PRISON officers accused Boris Johnson yesterday of playing to the right-wing press by pledging to extend sentences for serious criminals ahead of a possible general election.
Offenders sentenced to 12 months or more currently serve half of the time in prison and the second half on licence in the community unless they are recalled.
Prison workers’ union POA general secretary Steve Gillan told the Morning Star that the Prime Minister is “gearing up for a general election and putting things out for the headlines to please newspapers such as the Daily Mail and The Sun.”
The PM’s plans to “come down hard” on crime have fuelled speculation that he is preparing for an early general election amid continuing deadlock in Parliament over Brexit.
The Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook accused Mr Johnson of “trying to whip up a lynch-mob mentality” and of generating pre-election “hot air.”
She said community sentences reduce crime better than prison sentences in England and Wales.
The Reform think tank’s director Charlotte Pickles said Mr Johnson’s “unevidenced electioneering” would be a “monumental waste of money.”
And shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon suggested that the Tories scrap “ineffective short sentences that only lead to more reoffending and more victims.”
Mr Johnson made a series of announcements over the weekend to pledge £2.5 billion for 10,000 extra prison places and the extension of stop-and-search powers, plus an extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service.
And yesterday evening he announced £100m of investment to stop drugs, weapons and phones getting into prisons.
The Ministry of Justice said the latter funding is newly released from the Treasury and will be immediately available to fund X-ray scanners and metal detectors in prisons.
It will also be used to block phone signals and bolster the anti-corruption unit, which identifies dishonest prison staff.
But the POA’s Mr Gillan told the Star that Mr Johnson is “regurgitating old news” as the measures were announced earlier this year ,when £70m was ring-fenced by government for tighter prison security.
He said an anti-corruption unit was launched “some time ago” but asserted: “There is a tiny proportion of staff that can be corrupted.
“The POA would welcome measures that would contribute to rooting them out because they don’t do the 99 per cent of staff any good whatsoever and also put them in danger.”
“But the Tories made the cuts to prisons and got rid of 8,000 staff. They are reaping what they sow.”
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