David Cameron challenged on prison policy

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Indy Politics

A Tory MP today challenged David Cameron over an apparent shift in prison policy which could see fewer criminals locked up on short sentences.

Philip Davies (Shipley) said: "The millions of people who voted Conservative at the last election to make you Prime Minister didn't do so to see a reduction in the number of people sent to prison or to see those criminals given softer sentences.

"If you want to reduce the budget of the prison service can I suggest you start by taking away Sky TV from the 4,000 prisoners that enjoy that luxury in their cells."

Mr Cameron thanked him for his "helpful" suggestion, adding: "I share your view about the need for a tough response to crime.

"The challenge is going to be delivering that tough response at a time when the last government left us absolutely no money.

"We've got to address the failures in the system - the fact that half of all prisoners are on drugs, the fact that more than one in 10 are foreign nationals who shouldn't be here in the first place, and the fact that 40% of them commit another crime within one year of leaving prison.

"That's the record of failure we inherited and the record of failure we've got to reform."

The question time exchanges came after Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke questioned why the prison population - at 85,000 - was nearly double what it was when he was Home Secretary in the early 1990s.

The coalition has already announced a review of the sentencing guidelines for judges when they are deciding how to punish offenders. Mr Clarke suggested at the weekend it could conclude fewer criminals should be locked up on shorter sentences.

Mr Clarke also confirmed he is looking for cuts in the £2.2 billion prison budget and seemed to indicate he did not regard short prison sentences as effective in cutting reoffending rates.