Overcrowded UK prisons are ‘feeding crime’ – study

Reuters/Peter Macdiarmid
Overcrowding in UK prisons is “feeding crime and creating more victims,” new research shows, as figures indicate three out of four men’s jails accommodate more inmates than they’re designed to hold.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, analyzed by the Howard League for Penal Reform, reveals prison officers are forced to double up inmates, and place two of them in one-man cells.

Doubling up is most common in Wandsworth prison, where nearly 1,100 men on average are forced to share 6ft-by-10ft (183 x 305cm) cells designed for one inmate.

Prisoners receive minimal ventilation in their cells and unscreened toilets at the feet of their bunk beds.

Figures show 19,000 inmates are doubled up. Some 800 others are trebled up, meaning three prisoners are forced to share a two-man cell.

The most crowded prison in UK is Leeds in Northern England, which was built to hold 669 prisoners. Inspectors discovered it held 1,218 inmates at the end of January.

Prisons such as Wandsworth, Exeter, Preston, Durham, Doncaster and Swansea also face serious overcrowding issues.

Official inspections have revealed prisoners spend up to 23 hours a day in such conditions.

Overcrowding has led to a rise in violence, suicides and self-harm incidents, as well as “feeding crime,” the report claims.

The growing prison population and the coalition government’s austerity cuts, including prison closures and redundancies, are to blame for the overcrowding, it adds.

While the prison population grew from 75,374 to 78,935 between January 2013 and January 2015, 10 detention centers were shut down and others were converted into immigration centers.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, urged the government to take action.

The government must get a grip on a prison system in crisis,” he said.

The crisis is “feeding the crime problem and creating more victims,” he added.

Caging men in squalor with nothing to do all day is never going to help them become law-abiding citizens on release.

Far too many people are being sent into already overcrowded jails and the need to stem the flow is now urgent.”

The figures have sparked a debate on Twitter about what can be done to reduce the spiraling UK prison population.

One Twitter user blamed mounting incarceration rates on the rise of criminal immigrants in the UK. “I think if a person is not from this country they should be deported and not locked up.”

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Another said, “This has been going on since 2006 so still no change[sic],” adding the Conservative Party is to blame for the rise.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said, “We always have enough space within our prisons to accommodate all offenders, and will never be in a position where we can’t imprison those sentenced by the courts.”

Despite the damning figures, Selous insisted overcrowding “is at its lowest levels since 2007/08.