Tories abandon pledge to build 5,000 new prison places

Party reneges on promise to end the early release scheme by building more prison places

David Cameron has been accused of a "humiliating" U-turn after the Conservatives reneged on their pledge to build 5,000 new prison places.

The policy, announced by Cameron in 2008, was designed to allow a Tory government to end the automatic early release scheme. The Tory leader said that the scheme would be paid for by selling off inner-city Victorian jails. The party now concedes that the recession means the prisons would only fetch "rock bottom prices".

The prisons minister Maria Eagle said: "This is a huge U-turn from David Cameron and their justice team."

"As recently as June this year [shadow justice secretary] Dominic Grieve was saying this was pledge number one."

She added: "There is nothing that has changed to make them suddenly change their mind. They have just realised, as we said last year, which their policy ... is not properly costed and it is incoherent."

The government introduced the early release scheme-which entitles prisoners who have served half of their full term to automatic release-in a bid to reduce overcrowding.

A Tory party spokesman attacked Gordon Brown for releasing "70,000 criminals from jail early" as prime minister.

He said: "A Conservative government will be committed to clearing up the mess this government leaves behind.

"That means building the prison places to end Labour's reckless early release scheme, and introducing a rehabilitation revolution to cut soaring reoffending rates."

The former Tory minister, Jonathan Aitken, who served seven months for perjury in 1999, praised the U-turn as a "move of realism" that acknowledged the need for public spending restraint.


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