Prisons face overcrowding crisis

Prisons in England and Wales are under "enormous pressure" and are facing a "looming overcrowding crisis", according to a charity report.

The Prison Reform Trust reported that prison numbers have crept up again since Christmas rising to over 77,000 again. On March 24, the prison population in England and Wales stood at 77,004, an increase of 2,603 on last year's figures.

The charity said that the record prison population of 77,774 could be passed in "a couple of months" and that the prison system would be "entirely full" by the summer.

The report blamed longer sentences, the growing imprisonment of women, young people and petty offenders, the over-use of remand and recall and the extra-ordinary prevalence of drug and alcohol dependence and mental illness in prison, as well as the failure of prisons to cut re-offending.

The Prison Reform Trust said that scarce prison places should be reserved for the most serious offenders.

The charity warned that the overcrowding meant that prisons were unable to properly rehabilitate offenders. Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Rapidly rising numbers have reduced many prisons to locked warehouses in which prison officers are called upon to act merely as turnkeys, processing people in transit from Jail to overcrowded jail."

The Prison Reform Trust said that prisons had a "poor record" for reducing re-offending - 67.4% of all prisoners are reconvicted within two years of being released, the charity reported, while the figure was 78.4% for men aged between 18 - 21.

Ms Lyon said: "No one can be satisfied with a prison system, which turns people out more, not less, likely to offend again. Overcrowded prisons are turning petty criminals into the old lags of the future.

"Government has neither the time, nor the money, to build its way out of this looming prison crisis, but it does have ready solutions to hand to resurrect fines, enforce work and community payback, divert addicts into treatment and the mentally ill into healthcare. It must act now to increase public and judicial confidence in effective alternatives to custody."


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