What the UK party manifestos say about prisons in their own words

British politicians’ plans for prisons in the run-up to the general election. 

UKIP mentions prisons most in its 2015 manifesto while the SNP has only one reference. Source: Prison Watch UK

UKIP mentions prisons most in its 2015 manifesto while the SNP has only one reference. Source: Prison Watch UK


Is UKIP the party most concerned about British prisons? The right-wing party mentions prisons or prisoners more than any other large UK political party in its 2015 manifesto as the chart above shows. But of course it’s all about context.

Here is exactly what the parties say they will do after the upcoming general election in their own words. We will leave it to you to decide whether to believe them or not.



The Conservative Party  

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 15

The Tories are once again promising to toughen sentencing “so dangerous criminals are kept off our streets”. That should help with prison overcrowding. Here is what else they promise:

  • More privatisation: want to close “old, inefficient prisons, building larger, modern and fit-for-purpose ones and expanding payment-by-results.”
  • No more foreign human rights: they pledge to “scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights” to “make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK”.
  • More legal aid cuts coming: the Conservatives “will continue to review our legal aid systems, so they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way.”
  • Better treatment for women and their children: the party will explore “how new technology may enable more women with young children to serve their sentence in the community.”
  • More of the war on drugs: will “introduce widespread random testing of drug use in jails, new body scanners, greater use of mobile phone blocking technology and a new strategy to tackle corruption in prisons.”
  • More short-sentences and tagging: they want “short, sharp spells in custody” for “prolific criminals.” They promise to “deploy new technology to monitor offenders in the community and to bring persistent offenders to justice more quickly.”
  • When judges get it wrong: will allow “a wider range of sentences” to be challenged.
  • Strengthen victims’ rights: introduce “a new Victims’ Law that will enshrine key rights for victims, including the right to make a personal statement and have it read in court before sentencing – and before the Parole Board decides on a prisoner’s release.”

Read the full manifesto here.



The Labour Party  

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 7

Labour’s plan is to “prevent crime occurring in the first place.” How exactly they plan to do that is unclear. Here is what else they say they will do:

  • It’s time for payback: they will make “offenders put right the wrong they have done, with payback orders replacing low-level cautions.”
  • Rehabilitation: say they “will do more to increase the amount of time prisoners spend working and learning.”
  • More professional staff: they vow to “raise professional standards amongst prison officers, including through the creation of Chartered Prison Officers, and confront the neglected problem of staff corruption.”
  • Youth justice: promise to pilot “a new approach to 18 to 20-year-old offenders, incentivising local authorities, police and probation services to work together to identify those at risk of drifting into criminal activity and, where possible, divert them into a more constructive way of life.”
  • Restorative justice: pledge to “work to embed restorative justice right across the youth justice system”.

Read the full manifesto here.



UK Independence Party  

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 26

Nigel Farage said his party’s 2010 manifesto was “drivel”, but claims the 2015 version is the “gold standard”. What do you think?

  • More prisoners: says that “an early priority for UKIP will be to re-establish prison capacity. We will not risk allowing sentencing or parole hearings to be influenced by a lack of prison places.”
  • But fewer foreign ones: pledge to do their “utmost to deport foreign criminals and prevent those with criminal records from entering Britain”. It also says they must handle any appeal “from their home country, or the country to which they are deported. They must also pay their own costs, or their home nation must fund their case.”
  • Education: promise to “introduce a system whereby suitably qualified prisoners will be paid to teach prisoners with a low standard of literacy and numeracy. Prisoners must sign an education covenant requiring them to complete their studies on release.”
  • Payback for victims: “Any money earned in prison must first be used to pay any compensation due to victims and thereafter towards further studies.”
  • No vote: Prisoners will not be given the vote because “voting is a civic right, not a human right”.
  • Jobs on release: vow to “guarantee the offer of a job in the police service, prison service or border force for anyone who has served in the Armed Forces for a minimum of 12 years.”

Read the full manifesto here.



Liberal Democrats  

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 18

Nick Clegg promises to “reform prisons to focus on turning offenders away from a life of crime.” They have the longest list and perhaps the most progressive approach, but judge for yourself:

  • Lock up fewer people: says the aim is to “significantly reduce the prison population by using more effective alternative punishments and correcting offending behaviour.”
  • Less privatisation: “public servants rather than commercial organisations should provide detention, prison, immigration enforcement and secure units.”
  • Stop the war on drugs: want to “adopt the approach used in Portugal where those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use are diverted into treatment, education or civil penalties that do not attract a criminal record.”
  • Focus on the dangerous few: for those who commit the most serious offences, they want “increased use of tough non-custodial punishments including weekend or evening custody, curfews, unpaid work in the community and GPS tagging. This will enable us to introduce a presumption against short-term sentences.”
  • US-style drug and alcohol courts: vow to “provide experts in courts and police stations to identify where mental health or a drug problem is behind an offender’s behaviour” and pilot US-style drug and alcohol courts.
  • Female prisoners: want to “create a Women’s Justice Board…to improve rehabilitation of female offenders.”
  • Young prisoners: they want to “extend the role of the Youth Justice Board to all offenders aged under 21, give them the power to commission mental health services and devolve youth custody budgets to Local Authorities.”
  • Restorative justice: aim to “promote Community Justice Panels and other local schemes designed to stop problems from escalating.”
  • Rehabilitation: make sure “offenders receive an education and skills assessment within one week, start a relevant course and programme of support within one month and able to complete courses on release.”
  • Less use of remand: promise to “reduce the use of remand for suspected offenders who can be safely monitored in the community and are unlikely to receive a prison sentence if found guilty.”
  • Improve prison governance and accountability: by measuring “progress in reducing reoffending, providing education and tackling addiction and mental health issues” and giving Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation more power.
  • Work for victims: make prisoners work “longer hours with wages contributing to a Victims’ Fund.”

Read the full manifesto here.



Green Party   

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 21

Like the LibDems, the Green Party is also very progressive in its policies. But how many will be adopted?

  • Reduce the prison population: want to “operate a smaller prison system, saving £5.5 billion over the course of the Parliament.”
  • More restorative justice: promise to “greatly expand the use of restorative justice, with the offender making up to the victim and the community”.
  • Fewer young prisoners: believe there are far too many children in prison, so want to “create a strong statutory presumption against the imprisonment of young offenders”.
  • More work and education: promise to “provide access to real work and education, the work to include repairing damage done by crime.” They also want to “provide access to literacy and numeracy classes from the first day of imprisonment.”
  • Less privatisation: they are opposed to “the privatisation of the probation services”.
  • Give prisoners the vote: the only party to state this in its manifesto.

Read the full manifesto here.



Plaid Cymru   

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 12

Not many are familiar with the policies of the Welsh party, so here they are:

  • No super-prison: it is opposed to “the development of a privately built and run ‘super-prison’ at Wrexham, which does not meet the needs of North Wales”.
  • Female and young offenders: says “there is a lack of appropriate prison facilities for women prisoners in Wales and limited facilities for young offenders,” so they aim to find suitable sites and funding.
  • Support human rights: pledge to “oppose any moves by a UK Government to withdraw from….the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.”
  • No probation privatisation: vow to “bring the Welsh probation service back into public control”.
  • Victims bill of rights: introduce a law aimed at helping victims.
  • Education: promise to “help prisoners to develop reading and literacy skills to help them find a job away from a life of crime.”
  • More help for soldiers: promise to “create ex-servicemen’s courts to better recognise the particular problems faced by former members of the armed forces.”
  • Mental health and drugs: say they “will improve co- operation between the prison service and health and substance misuse services.”

Read the full manifesto here.



Scottish National Party   

Mentions of prison or prisoner in manifesto: 1

The SNP has only one mention of prison in its 2015 manifesto and that is to brag that “the average prison sentence for handling an offensive weapon in Scotland is now three times higher than in 2004-05”. A poor show by any measure.

Read the full manifesto here.

We will be writing more about the party manifestos before the general election on 7 May. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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