[JURIST] UK Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw [official profile] Monday called [speech text; press release] for a 'rebalancing of criminal justice priorities' amidst outrage expressed at newly released Ministry of Justice [official website] figures showing a sharp rise in the number of children born to female inmates. The Independent reported [news report] that according to official figures, 49 babies were born in prisons in England and Wales between April and the beginning of July this year, as compared to a total of 64 in 1995-96. Prison reform groups such as the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust [advocacy websites] quickly condemned the increase as inhumane and symptomatic of the over-incarceration of non-violent female offenders. In his speech Monday, Straw in turn criticized the strength of the UK prison reform lobby, arguing:
We hear loud and clear about the needs of offenders. But what about victims? The government as a whole has worked very hard to give a central voice and priority to victims, but we hear far less often from these lobbies about the needs of the victim. I think that they sometimes forget who the victim is, so lost do they become in a fog of platitudes and debate over the 'needs' of the offenders.BBC News has more.
Last year, the Ministry of Justice gave authority to prison governors to grant early release to prisoners coming to the end of their sentences [JURIST report] in order to relieve prison overcrowding [BBC backgrounder]. The Ministry also announced that 1500 new prison spaces would be made available by the end of 2008. In 2006, then-Home Secretary John Reid outlined steps to combat the problem of overcrowded prisons [JURIST report], but prison populations have continued to rise since that time.