Published:  02:12 PM, 11 August 2019

UK PM plans 10,000 more prison places

UK PM plans 10,000 more prison places

The government will create room for 10,000 new prisoners and expand stop and search powers, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said after a "spate of violent crime... the time for action had come".

He also said tougher sentencing laws were needed.

Labour's shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said increasing stop and search was a "tried and tested recipe for unrest".

The government's focus on law and order will add to speculation that No 10 is preparing for an autumn general election, said BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake.

It follows other recent announcements from Downing Street about the NHS and immigration.

Last month, the government also pledged to recruit 20,000 extra police officers, nearly replacing the number of officers lost since the Conservatives came to power.

In the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said the 10,000 new prison places will be created by building new jails and expanding existing ones, at a cost of up to £2.5bn

The money has already been approved by the Treasury, with Mr Johnson calling the investment "long overdue".

He also argued that too many serious violent or sexual offenders are coming out of prison long before they should, and tougher sentences were needed.

On Monday, Mr Johnson will sit down with representatives from the police and criminal justice system to discuss sentencing.

"We need to come down hard on crime," he wrote. "That means coming down hard on criminals. We need to reverse the balance of fear.

"I want the criminals to be afraid - not the public."

Stop and search changes
Mr Johnson also confirmed that a pilot scheme allowing police to stop and search someone when they believe a crime may - rather than will - be committed, will be extended to all 43 forces across England and Wales.

The scheme was first introduced in seven police force areas in March by Sajid Javid when he was home secretary.

It lifts restrictions over using section 60 stop and search, which - during a limited time period - gives police the power to stop individuals in a designated area without reasonable suspicion.

Inspectors will now be able to use it without seeking the authorisation of a senior officer.

Stop and search powers have been controversial for many years, with evidence that they are sometimes misused and that they disproportionately target black people.

In 2017-18, black people were 9.5 times more likely to be searched than white people, a gap which has grown in recent years.

Jonathan Hinds, who campaigns against its misuse, told BBC Radio 5 Live he had been stopped three times within a mile by three different police officers.

He warned black people faced being "targeted by these draconian powers".

Elena Noel, co-chair of Southwark's anti-knife crime forum, said action was needed to halt the "crisis" but "independent data does not show that stop and search stops knife crime and violence".

A study of stop and search over a decade in London by the College of Policing found it to be "inconsistent" and "weak" as a deterrent.

Mr Johnson acknowledged the controversy, adding: "Of course, it is right that stop and search should be done courteously and in accordance with the law."

"But I also know that the people who back this intervention most fervently are often the parents of the kids who are so tragically foolish as to go out on the streets equipped with a knife, endangering not only the lives of others but their own."

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "Stop and search works. We hear again and again from police that (they) need to be empowered."

She said powers needed to be used in the "right, legal and professional way" but they were supported by families of victims of knife crime, from "communities that have suffered so much trauma and pain".

John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said he was pleased ministers had listened to his calls to give officers across the country the same tools. "We can't have a postcode lottery on keeping the public safe," he said.

"We are in the grip of a wave of violent crime on a scale we've not seen before with young people being killed or stabbed on our streets and we have to do something about it," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

He acknowledged concerns and said police officers would be as professional as possible, but said they had to respond to people who could be "incredibly hostile, aggressive and violent".

Labour accused the Conservatives of trying to "appear tough" instead of dealing with the root causes of crime.

Ms Abbott said extending stop and search powers during the summer was a "tried and tested recipe for unrest - not violence reduction".

The announcement comes days after a police officer was stabbed in the head with a machete in east London.

There has been speculation that Downing Street is preparing for a general election soon after Parliament returns from its summer break next month.

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