Blair says public should be 'relieved' that jails are full up

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Indy Politics

Britain's prisons are "full to bursting point", Tony Blair admitted yesterday, but he also suggested that the public should be relieved that dangerous prisoners are being locked up for longer.

His comments were criticised by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. The shadow Home Secretary David Davis implied that there are not enough people behind bars and promised that a Tory government would build more prisons to accommodate them.

However, the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, suggested instead that there are large numbers of people pointlessly serving short sentences in Britain's prisons.

However, Mr Davis and Sir Menzies stopped short of demanding that John Reid, the Home Secretary, be sacked. Both said, independently, that there was no point in demanding the Home Secretary's removal when the Prime Minister is soon to stand down.

There are "big problems" at the Home Office, Mr Blair said, in an interview on the BBC1's Politics Show. However, he said: "You've got a situation where, today, people are in prison for longer and you've got, of course, the new indeterminate sentences - where people can be kept in for an indeterminate period if they remain a danger to the public."

Mr Reid defended himself in an article in the Sunday Express yesterday. He wrote: "This isn't a new problem. I am by no means the first Home Secretary in history to face a burgeoning prison population.

"We have foreign national prisoners, some 1,300 who have finished their sentences, whom I want to deport, but who are occupying much-needed places in the meantime. I make no apology for keeping them in prison in the meantime."

But Mr Davis on BBC1's AM programme blamed the problem on the government's failure to act upon its own forecast that a hundred thousand prison places would be needed by the end of the decade.