Clarke 'planning to close six prisons'

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Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke is planning to close six jails at a cost of 5,000 cells as his ministry seeks to cut its budget by almost a quarter, it was claimed today.

The Times reported that the plans would be set out in a Green Paper aimed at reducing the number of offenders behind bars.

The paper said that George Osborne's demand in last month's spending review for a 23% reduction in the MoJ's budget by 2014/15 will cost around 10,000 jobs, with six prisons in England and Wales slated for closure.

A spokeswoman for the MoJ responded: "We expect that by the end of the spending review period, the number of prisoners will be around 3,000 lower than it is today - equivalent to 2008 levels.

"We are looking at the sentencing frameworks for adults and young offenders, as well as the full range of penalties available in the criminal justice system.

"Long-term decisions on prison capacity programmes will be taken in the light of these policy developments."

Meanwhile, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick told The Times that the treatment of some inmates in prisons in England and Wales was "a disgrace.

"You look at the conditions some people are in and what's happening to them and the lack of care they are getting and you think: 'This is just a disgrace'," said Mr Hardwick.

He said that prisoners spent too much time doing nothing and too little attention was given to stopping them returning to a life of crime after release.

Even in the workshops which are supposed to provide them with purposeful activity, "there's a lot of sitting around playing cards", he said.

Mr Clarke said: "Last week's figures on reoffending and remarks by the Chief Inspector of Prisons today accurately describe the appalling legacy left behind by the last government.

"Around three quarters of all prisoners go on to commit more crime. Large parts of the prison estate are squalid and overcrowded.

"That's why I'm drawing up radical reforms for the prison system. Prison has to be the proper place to keep serious criminals. For others, we have to tackle the problem of reoffending, which is causing our prison population to soar.

"We will pay providers by results if they succeed in reducing the number of convicted people who reoffend. Our radical reforms are aimed at whatever will work, because we need to reduce crime by reducing the number of criminals, not just locking up more and more of them."