Prison population in England and Wales at record high

A prisoner Last month Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's plans to cut sentences for guilty pleas were axed

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The number of prisoners in England and Wales has reached an all-time high, the Ministry of Justice has said.

Its latest figures showed the prison population now stands at 85,578, just 2,500 short of the usable operational capacity.

The new figures tops the previous record set in October by 83.

Last month Prime Minister David Cameron axed Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's plans to let offenders who plead guilty out early, saying it was "too lenient".

The most recent figures for Scotland, published in December 2010, said the jail population north of the border was 7,964.

Mr Clarke has said the numbers are too high, and he wants a greater emphasis placed on rehabilitation and community sentences.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We will always ensure there are sufficient prison places for offenders sentenced to custody by courts.

"There is currently a substantial margin between our available capacity and the actual population. New accommodation continues to become available and in the next 12 months 2,500 new places will become operational."

Start Quote

I implore the government to bite the bullet and find a strategic way to reduce the prison population by putting an end to short term prison sentences”

End Quote Frances Crook Howard League for Penal Reform

The Howard League for Penal Reform's director, Frances Crook, said: "Every week we cram hundreds more people into our already bulging jails, only for people to leave prison unchanged and to go back to crime.

"Prisons are awash with drugs, violence and arson and this is inflicted on local communities when people leave prison. The answer to rising prison populations is not to build more failing jails.

"This ceaseless growth in prison numbers is untenable and I implore the government to bite the bullet and find a strategic way to reduce the prison population by putting an end to short term prison sentences.

"A record prison high is a sign of failure, not success."

The Prison Service said it would be opening three new facilities:

  • A new unit providing 180 spaces at HMP Moorland in South Yorkshire (October 2011)
  • A completely new prison, HMP Belmarsh West, in south east London providing 900 spaces (March 2012)
  • A huge new prison, HMP Featherstone 2, near Wolverhampton, providing 1,600 spaces (in two phases - April and June 2012).

A spokesman said: "This new accommodation will contribute to an overall upgrade of the prison estate allowing us to close worn out and inefficient places and, in doing so, means a more cost effective prison service."

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