A fascinating exchange took place on Tuesday on the subject of Prisons. The question and answer from two Conservative politicians discloses some of the nonsense that gets spoken at our expense in the Palace of Westminster, away from the spotlight of Prime Minister Questions. The person asking the question was the MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson. His question was one of those questions that certain MPs love to ask, inviting Ministers to pay compliments to their constituency because of something the Governments policies have achieved, even though in this case the policy began under the previous Labour Government. The use of a Social Investment Bond to try to reduce the numbers of people who return to crime after leaving prison was announced on 18 March 2010 by Jack Straw in his role of Justice Secretary under the Labour Government. Fast forward 5 years when Stewart Jackson asked:
The Minister will know how successful the social investment bond at Doncaster and Peterborough prisons has been in tackling recidivism. Indeed, he, the Secretary of State and his predecessors visited the prisons. Will he recapitulate his commitment to social investment bonds as a means of tackling reoffending across the penal estate?
Clearly if the service is as successful as Stewart Jackson and my own understanding suggests, the ultimate impact will be to reduce the size of the prison population, and therefore lead to a reduction in prisons. This makes the response from Andrew Selous, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice very odd:
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and of course we recently provided additional capacity at Peterborough prison in the form of a new house block. We have studied carefully what happened at Doncaster and Peterborough and will learn lessons from it. The Government are keen that the use of social impact bonds continues across government.
It seems clear that although there are major weaknesses in the way in which Social Impact Bonds have worked in some cases, that the Government is committed to their use. In principle this is a good thing, assuming that funders can be found for them. However that first sentence from Andrew Selous suggests that he does not understand the purpose of the services that the SIB is intended to provide. If the services in Peterborough and Doncaster are having an impact, there should a plan to reduce the capacity of our prisons, not to increase them. This response questions how much reliance we can place on the understanding of our Government? Or perhaps Andrew Selous and his Government is so committed to building bigger prisons, that they will use every excuse to do so, even if the evidence points in the opposite direction.