Calls for justice overhaul as new figures reveal scale of prison overcrowding

The majority of prisons are overcrowded.

Campaigners have called on the government to end ‘pointless’ short prison sentences, as new official figures show that nine prisons are overcapacity by more than 50%.

The extent of overcrowding in prisons is revealed today in the Ministry of Justice’s latest Prison Population bulletin. It shows that, as of the end of 2019, there are 68 prisons in England and Wales (58%) where the number of prisoners exceeds capacity.
 
This includes nine prisons whose population exceeds capacity by more than 50%: Leicester, Durham, Swansea, Wandsworth, Lincoln, Leeds, Pentonville, Preston, and Exeter.

68 prisons are over-capacity – 58% of the total, according to LFF analysis. There are 8,812 more prisoners than there is capacity for in the over-crowded prisons – up from 8,700 in May 2019 Commons Library briefing.

Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:

“Prisons are in crisis. With overcrowding at these levels, it’s little wonder that violence, self-harm, suicide and drug use are so common.
 
“Overstretched staff simply can’t cope. That means prisoners aren’t being rehabilitated, resulting in high re-offending rates and more victims of crime. The Conservatives’ sentencing plans will only make the problem worse. They will mean more prisoners and more overcrowding, while doing nothing to actually prevent crime.
 
“If the government is serious about cutting crime and making our communities safe, they must end the pointless short prison sentences that cause overcrowding and actually make people more likely to reoffend.”

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, told LFF: 

“When someone is in trouble with the law, we should do all that we can to guide them away from crime.

“This means that we must address the dangerous overcrowding in prisons, which fuels violence and self-injury and leaves prisoners languishing for hours on end in their cells without access to exercise, work, education or training.

“Sensible steps to reduce the prison population would save lives, protect staff, and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime and despair.”

The Howard League argue ‘the key is to prevent people going into prison – and the wider criminal justice system – in the first place’. Policy recommendations include reducing arrests of children, and supporting projects that guide people away from crime. The campaigners have also called on the government to scrap short prison sentences.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter. 

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