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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Experts faults UK PM stance on prisons capacity

The United Kingdom’s prison system is on the brink of collapse, with inmate numbers expected to reach maximum capacity within weeks.

The crisis has been building for years, however, the new government led by Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, is now facing the consequences of overcrowding, understaffing, and underfunding.

Starmer has described the state of Britain’s prisons as a “monumental failure” of the previous government. But with spending on prisons set to fall by 5.9 percent each year relative to demand, his government has limited financial room to maneuver.

Many prisons are already housing two inmates in cells built for one, and emergency measures have been triggered to avoid new arrivals. Offenders are being released early, and court cases are being delayed.

The head of the body representing prison governors has warned that unless a solution can be found, offenders will soon have to be held in police cells, constraining officers and disrupting the wider judicial system.

Tom Wheatley, president of the Prison Governors Association, said the new government had no time to waste.

“I think they can act quickly enough, but only just. It’s going to be touch and go. We’re nearing the line on what can be safely accommodated, even in overcrowded conditions,” he said.

As of July 5, England and Wales had 87,453 prisoners – up from 86,035 a year earlier and within a small amount of what prison governors see as a maximum capacity of 88,864.

Wheatley, who has run several jails, said the prison estate in England and Wales was only built to house about 79,000 people, not the nearly 88,000 people it has now. He said switching to more tagging may require legislation, but he expects a government decision soon.

The PM had promised in his first press conference after his victory in the last week election, to tackle the current issue but warned it would take time.

“We can’t fix it overnight. Therefore, it is impossible to say we will stop the early release of prisoners,” he assured.

Britain’s Ministry of Justice said a third of former prisoners were proven to have committed another offense within 12 months of release, rising to more than half of those who had served less than a year behind bars.

The UK has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, according to the World Prison Brief database, and faces a crisis after a new building program failed to keep track of tougher sentencing laws that have fueled a growing prison population.

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