Warnings of rioting as prison population surges

The prison population is on course to hit 100,000 in four years’ time, after hitting a new record of 83,000 for the first time.

The Prison Officers’ Association warned that suspected criminals might be going free because there are not enough cells to house them while prisons watchdog Anne Owers also said that conditions in jails were the worst she had known in eight years, with evidence of low level unrest in some prisons.

Adding to fears of an overcrowding crisis, Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, warned of a summer of “small scale rioting” as Britain’s prisons were pushed close to bursting.

Internal Ministry of Justice figures obtained by the Prison Officers’ Association showed the number of people being held in Britain’s jails was 83,070 – up from 82,779 at the end of last week.

Colin Moses, the association’s chairman, said the number of inmates in British prisons was now set to hit 100,000 by 2012.

The new prison population record was a “disgrace”, Mr Moses said, coming at the same time as the department looks to cut £60million off the prisons budget this year and next.

Mr Moses said suspected criminals might be going free because there are not enough cells to house them.

Mr Moses said: “I often ask myself, how many custodial warrants are outstanding because as a prison place is available a prisoner appears.

“So are the public really safe or are the police only executing warrants dependant on prison and police cell spaces?”

Liberal Democrat Justice spokesman David Howarth said: “The punishment should fit the crime and not be based on the ever-decreasing availability of prison cells.

“This crisis is putting our penal system and the staff who work in it under unnecessary strain.”

Nick Herbert, shadow Justice Secretary, added: “The Government has spent the last decade ignoring every warning that prison capacity was inadequate.

“Now the public is paying the price as thousands of violent prisoners are released early, overcrowded prisons are awash with drugs, and re-offending rates rise, making the situation worse.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lord Woolf of Barnes said the current hot spell would increase tensions in jails, with very few of them having air-conditioning.

The peer said: “The present situation is extremely worrying. I don’t think prisons will blow up tomorrow or next week but there is certainly a danger of that.”

Lord Woolf, who published a study into the riots in Strangeways Jail in Manchester in 1991, said a hot summer escalates tensions.

He said: “Hot weather won’t help. There may be a prison or two which does not have air conditioning – but not many, if any.

“The prison service is very good at handling prisoners but they are at bursting point. We are getting into the danger area.

“It could manifest itself in perhaps today more small scale rioting of the sort we have heard about it.”

In a separate interview with The Daily Telegraph, Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that “incidents are happening in prisons” which showed the system was “running hot”.

Conditions in prisons in January and February was “were more difficult than any time I have seen”, she said.

She said: “Prisons are running hot and they were running very hot in January and February, and there were a number of incidents that were controlled.

“They are signs of a system that is running hot. This is a system operating at full strength and under considerable pressure.”

Prisoners were being “pulled out of offending behaviour programmes” and sent to other institutions to free up cell space.

Other offenders who were sentenced in Birmingham were “spending their first night in a police cell in Plymouth”, she said.

She added: “All those working in the prison system know that it is operating very close to the edge. It has calmed down but the population is going up again.

“The likelihood is that it will go up during the summer – a difficult summer for the prison service.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We will always provide enough prison places for serious offenders, those who should be behind bars: the most dangerous, the seriously persistent offenders, the most violent.

“Prison is the right place for such people. Since the beginning of March we have increased total capacity by over 1,000 places through the prison building programme and every effort is being made to make best use of the existing estate and bring new accommodation on-stream early.”

source: http://www.worldpress.org/feed.cfm?http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2038409/Warnings-of-rioting-as-prison-population-surges.html

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One Response to “Warnings of rioting as prison population surges”

  1. It is time to let out the prisoners with indeterminate sentences that were given short periods e.g. 18 months. – some for minor offences. Do not let out serious offenders until they have served their time – people who have indeterminate sentences where the tariff has expired are much less risky than the determinate long sentenced people.

    What is the matter with this government when they allow indeterminate sentences which breach human rights and cause misery. The government have been asked to tell us how many short term tariffs have expired and they refuse to answer – obviously they are being controlled by the media – is this in case they let out a sex offender. There are many short tariff sex offenders who would not be a risk to the public – let them out of prison, under supervision) and that would free up many places. Wake up Jack Straw and act sensibly regarding the short tariff indeterminate sentences – you will soon have prisons full of prisoners with indeterminate sentences – many low risk or innocent. If someone has received more than 4 years but less than life they must be a serious risk – whereas short tariff indeterminate sentence prisoners could be low risk. Act like a responsible man Mr. Straw.

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