London: The prison system in England and Wales is dangerously close to capacity, with 98 percent of available spaces full, according to data released by Britain’s Ministry of Justice on Friday that experts said underscored an ongoing crisis within the criminal justice system.
The reality of overcrowded prisons and an accompanying rise in inmate violence and self-harm poses a stark challenge to the Conservative government as it plans to extend sentencing for the most serious crimes, as announced earlier this week.
The Ministry of Justice said the prison population was 87,704, meaning there are around 1,200 places left before the system reaches its maximum “operational capacity.”
Britain already has the highest per capita incarceration rate in western Europe, and many prisons house far more people than they were built for. Wandsworth prison in London, for example, from which a prisoner facing terrorism charges briefly escaped in September, has a normal capacity of 961, but was housing 1,584 men in May. An independent monitoring report said it was “seriously overcrowded with most men sharing cells designed for single occupancy.”
The prison population in England and Wales has risen rapidly since the 1990s as successive prime ministers pledged to be “tough on crime,” introducing longer sentences and policies to ensure convicted criminals serve a greater proportion of their sentences.