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Tories hit out at Labour's reduction of skills for prisoners; POLITICS PRISONS.

The Tories accused the Government of not doing enough to cut reoffending by helping offenders acquire new skills in prison.

Shadow justice minister Edward Garnier hit out at ministerial "incompetence" over the provision of "purposeful activity" in prisons.

And he attacked Justice Secretary Jack Straw for resorting to "cheap soundbites" on sentencing. His comments, at Commons question time yesterday, came after Mr Straw said in a speech to the Royal Society of Arts the prison reform lobby ensured "we hear loud and clear" about the needs of offenders but "they sometimes forget who the victim is".

Mr Garnier told MPs: "Even before July, when the Government severely cut back the amount of time prisoners can spend working or learning to read and write, they were spending only three-and-a-half hours a day, Monday to Friday, on purposeful activity.

"Don't you share my disappointment that while the reoffending rate for exprisoners rockets ... the Secretary of State resorts to cheap sound bites about sentencing to disguise the Government's incompetence in failing to provide real opportunities for offenders to turn away from crime."

Justice Minister David Hanson said crime was down 39 per cent since 1997 and reoffending figures were also down over six years.

He said each prisoner undertook 25.3 hours' purposeful activity per week.

"That's a steady figure and one I want to increase," he said.

Labour's David Taylor (Leicestershire NW) said there was a "rather Dickensian feel" to the list of activities regarded as "purposeful activity" - citing things like scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 29, 2008
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