Scale of prison overcrowding in England and Wales revealed

By agency reporter
August 4, 2019

The scale of prison overcrowding in England and Wales has been revealed as new figures show that, on a typical day, more than 18,000 prisoners are crammed into cells holding too many people.

Most prisoners living in overcrowded conditions are required to share cells that were designed for one person. A smaller number may be forced to sleep three to a cell, in cells meant for two.

Overall, three in five men’s prisons are holding more people than they are certified to look after.

Local prisons – which tend to hold prisoners on short sentences, awaiting sentence, on remand awaiting trial or awaiting transfer to another prison category – are under the most pressure from overcrowding.

The worst-affected prison is Wandsworth, in south London, where on a typical day more than 1,100 prisoners are held in cells that are overcrowded.

Other jails with particularly high numbers of prisoners in overcrowded cells include G4S-run Oakwood (916), Leeds (786), Durham (785), Sodexo-run Forest Bank (739), Serco-run Doncaster (695), G4S-run Altcourse (686), Serco-run Thameside (596), Preston (517), Hull (511), Birmingham (484), Pentonville (483), Elmley (447), Cardiff (444), Bullingdon (397) and Exeter (375).

The figures indicate that prisons with high levels of overcrowding are also likely to see high levels of violence.

The five men’s prisons that have triggered Urgent Notifications by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons to date – Nottingham, Exeter, Birmingham, Bedford and Bristol – all appear on the list of overcrowded jails. Several prisons that have been placed in special measures – including Chelmsford, Elmley, Hewell, Liverpool, Winchester and Wormwood Scrubs – also feature.

Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice last week revealed that incidents of self-injury and assault in prisons have risen to record levels. Prisons recorded 57,968 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 – at a rate of one every nine minutes.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Keeping thousands of men cooped up like battery hens in overcrowded cells is never going to help them to lead crime-free lives on release. This is an intolerable situation and, while the numbers have come down slightly in recent years, they remain frighteningly high. The figures reveal a clear relationship with overcrowding and violence in prisons.

“This is a challenge for the new Secretary of State for Justice, who now has a chance to build a positive legacy. Bold action to reduce the number of people behind bars would not only ease pressure on the prisons; it would save lives, protect staff and prevent crime.”

* Figures showing average levels of overcrowding in each prison in England and Wales are here

* Monthly prison population figures are here

* Howard League for Penal Reform


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