Britain’s prisons are full yet the government wants to keep locking people away

Prisons in Britain are full.

The government triggered Operation Early Dawn last week, meaning some suspects will be released on bail rather than be sent to jail, in an attempt to reduce the prison population.

But neither the Tories nor Labour, who want to be seen as “tough on crime”, will give up on sending thousands more to prison. In March the Ministry of Justice said that the number of people in prison could rise to as much as 114,800 by 2028. Yet there is nowhere to put them.

The Ministry of Justice announced this month that it was having to hold people in police cells because no prison cells were available. The rise in the prison population is down to two things.

The police are charging more people, and sentencing is getting harsher. This means that people are imprisoned for the same offences for much longer than before.

And increasingly people found guilty of shoplifting are thrown in jail. The drive by those in charge to lock more people up is already creating unimaginable suffering for prisoners.

The government has sent a growing number of prisons “Urgent Notifications” about their conditions. One of those prisons is HMP Bedford. Inspectors found last year that threequarters of prisoners lived in overcrowded conditions and were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours a day.

They also found evidence of cockroaches, rat infestations and black mould on the walls. In 2022 , at HMP Pentonville, 60 percent of prisoners lived in overcrowded cells.

Two people were often living in cells designated for one. Femi Laryea-Adekimi, a former inmate of Pentonville in 2019, said that his cell was “dilapidated, tiny the size of a bathroom, and who you share this with is the luck of the draw.

“It doesn’t matter how much you clean the cell. The cockroaches don’t ever go away. The ground-floor wing has rats and mice.”

Former Tory prisons minister Damian Hinds justified squeezing more people into Pentonville in 2023, saying that it was necessary for the foreseeable future. Conditions in prisons are only getting worse across the board.

According to figures released by the government in March, a quarter of prisoners in England and Wales were found to be sharing a cell designed for just one person.

The horrific conditions make it unsurprising that rates of self-harm and suicide are skyrocketing among prisoners. A government report found that the rate of prisoners’ self-harming has increased by 11 percent in the last year.

The Tories have tried to suggest that overcrowding is due to delays in the construction of prisons.

The reality is that the rise in prison numbers and the squalid conditions are down to a justice system that deems that the only solution to crime is locking people up.

Britain has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe.
The prison population has risen by 75 percent in the last 30 years and currently stands at around 88,000.   
More than two-and-a-half-times as many people were sentenced to ten years or more in 2022 than in 2010. 
More than 44,000 people were sent to prison to serve a sentence in the year to June 2023. 
The majority had committed a non-violent offence. Almost two in five were sentenced to up to six months in prison.  Some 76 of the 117 jails in England and Wales were officially overcrowded in 2018, and the problem has steadily risen. 
At the end of February, 22,095 men and women— one-quarter of the prison population of England and Wales—were doubled up or tripled up in single cells.


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