Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Jail population at new record high

The Government has said there will be enough jail places for anyone sentenced to custody as a result of the recent riots
The Government has said there will be enough jail places for anyone sentenced to custody as a result of the recent riots

The prison population in England and Wales has reached a record high for the third consecutive week as the courts continue to jail hundreds of people involved in the riots.

But the speed with which the prison population is rising following the riots appears to have slowed, with an increase of 167 this week compared with 723 last week, Ministry of Justice figures showed.

The total number of prisoners hit 86,821, compared with last week's record of 86,654, taking the population to about 1,500 short of the usable operational capacity of 88,338.

The Government has said there will be enough jail places for anyone sentenced to custody as a result of the violence and looting which swept across England's cities earlier this month, and contingency measures are also in place.

The rise - about 20 per day over the last week, compared with about 100 a day the previous week - comes as almost 1,500 people have appeared in court charged with offences linked to the riots.

A tough approach by the courts has seen seven in 10 of those charged remanded in custody, compared with just one in 10 of those charged with serious offences last year.

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt has said there will be a "one-off increase in prison numbers as people serve their sentences" but that the new wave of inmates will not necessarily change long-term estimates of prison numbers.

Speaking on Tuesday, he said jails can cope with the spike in numbers and has defended the tough sentences in the wake of rioting.

"We are completely confident that the prison system and justice system are going to be able to cope with what the police are producing for us," he said. "This is an exceptional event. What we have to do is make sure there are prison places for those sent to prison by the courts and we will continue to do that regardless of how many people are sent to prison."

Contingency plans to manage the "unprecedented situation" could involve bringing on new accommodation early, using extra places in the public and private estate, or reopening mothballed accommodation. And it could also trigger plans to accommodate prisoners in police cells.

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