When I visited Wandsworth Prison earlier this year, I met some incredible prison officers working in exceptionally tough conditions.  

Overcrowded, underresourced and with 75% of prisoners in their care still awaiting sentencing, it was a stressful and violent workplace, letting down prison officers and prisoners alike. 

Since my visit, we’ve seen a terror suspect escape from Wandsworth and now the Justice Minister come to Parliament, without a hint of an apology, to admit that under the Conservatives’ watch we’ve run out of prison places completely.  

It is a damning indictment of this Government’s collective ineptitude that they are failing the first duty of Government, which is to keep our citizens safe.

Their answer seems to be to delay sentencing even more. What message does that send the victims of rape and serious sexual assault who already face an average two-year wait for a court date? 

And how does that help the severely overcrowded prisons, like Wandsworth, where most of the prisoners are already awaiting sentencing because the courts backlog is so high?

There are legitimate discussions to be had about the most effective way of rehabilitating offenders and the role community sentencing can play in place of short, ineffective prison sentences.  

Ham & High: Catherine West MP blames the Conservative Government for the decline in prisonsCatherine West MP blames the Conservative Government for the decline in prisons

When I visited the women’s prison HMP Bronzefield last summer, many of the vulnerable women, including those with young babies, had themselves been victims of domestic violence. But this important work requires experienced probation staff, properly resourced, with genuine rehabilitation initiatives. 

What we have instead is a probation service at breaking point, with probation unions warning of catastrophic breakdown as staff juggle too many cases to complete meaningful work. 

This Government has sat back and watched the criminal justice system collapse and the prison population skyrocket whilst doing nothing to improve the rehabilitation that, if effective, can drive down reoffending or strengthen the community sentences that can reduce reoffending at source.  

Vital prison education services are “chaotic, disjointed” and too often low-quality, according to a select committee report.

There’s nothing good about ten Conservative justice secretaries in ten years filling our prisons to bursting whilst victims wait ever longer for justice, prison staff burn out, and prisoners are released only to reoffend again. 

With the cost of reoffending now at £18 billion, it is you who is paying the price of Conservative failure. 

  • Catherine West is Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.