Today, the Government is expected to reveal that at least 10,000 offenders, including violent criminals, have been released early onto the streets from prisons over the last four months.  The reason?  There isn't enough space for them in jail.

In spite of repeated official warnings about the lack of cells, prison building hasn't kept pace with rising numbers as courts have handed down tougher sentences.

Last week I visited Brixton prison.  It's nearly two hundred years old and the conditions are little short of shocking.  Only a quarter of the inmates are engaged in any purposeful activity at all.

This week, as Shadow Justice Secretary, I gave a major speech setting out what I think should be done about this, and we also debated the issue in the Commons.

I think it's quite wrong to release offenders early, and equally wrong to water down sentences and restrict the powers of magistrates, as the Government now proposes.  That's just giving criminals a break.

Custodial sentences are essential - most inmates are violent, serious or repeat offenders.  But, equally, prisons in their current form aren't working.  They are awash with drugs, and two thirds of adult prisoners re-offend within two years.

So I am leading a review looking at how to achieve prisons with a purpose, providing education, training, drugs treatment and work programmes to prepare inmates for the outside world.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a local person who asked: "Why are you worrying about the misfits and low-life criminals ensconced in our prison holiday camps?"

My answer is simple.  The cost of re-offending by ex-prisoners to the criminal justice system alone is a staggering £11 billion a year - more than the Government's entire transport budget.

If we can make prisons work so that more offenders go straight, the whole of society will benefit, and Britain will be a safer place.

Michelle Taylor