Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Rioters push inmate total to record

Metropolitan Police officers arrest a suspect as they attempt to recover property stolen during the recent civil disturbances in London

The prison population has reached a record high as officials say they are developing contingency plans to manage the unprecedented situation caused by hundreds of people being jailed over the riots.

Tough sentencing of those involved in the violence and looting by the courts saw the number of people behind bars in England and Wales rise by more than 100 a day over the past week.

But as some of the first appeals were heard, one woman who was jailed for five months after admitting that she accepted a pair of looted shorts from her housemate walked free from prison.

Mother-of-two Ursula Nevin, 24, who was sent down by a district judge at Manchester Magistrates' Court last week after she pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods, had her sentence reduced on appeal.

The Recorder of Manchester, Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, said the original decision was "wrong in principle" as he ordered that she should instead perform 75 hours of unpaid work for the community.

Nevin was in bed at the time of the widespread disorder in Manchester city centre where her lodger, Gemma Corbett, helped herself to clothing and footwear from the Vans store and then took them back to the house they shared in Stretford, Greater Manchester.

The Prison Service insisted it had enough space to cope with anyone jailed over the disorder, adding that it was developing its contingency plans to manage the "unprecedented situation". This could involve bringing on new accommodation early, using extra places in the public and private estate, or reopening mothballed accommodation.

But there are currently no plans to halt the closure of Latchmere House prison in Richmond, Surrey, or Brockhill prison in Redditch, Worcestershire, which are set to shut next month. And plans which would trigger police cells being used to accommodate prisoners have not yet been activated.

The total number of prisoners in England and Wales hit 86,654, 723 more than last week's record high of 85,931 and less than 1,500 short of the usable operational capacity of 88,093, the Ministry of Justice figures showed.

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

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