The prison population has increased by more than 100 a day over the past week as courts process cases of rioting and looting, prison governors have said.They said total jail numbers were 86,608 in England and Wales, a rise of 677 in the six days up to Thursday.The Prison Governors Association warned jails would run out of space if they continued to fill up at such a rate.However, the organisation said there was no immediate crisis. Official figures have yet to be released.The prison population normally decreases or remains stable in August because there are fewer court sittings and offenders sent to jail.
But this year because of the disorder in London, Manchester, Birmingham and other English cities, numbers are rising sharply. Demand for cells is particularly high in London.It means the number of spare places in the system – about 1,200 in prisons and 200 in immigration removal centres – is declining.Last week, the Ministry of Justice released figures showing the prison population had increased by 440 since the riots and was at a record high. It said it was “fairly confident” it could get the “headroom” it needed in prisons but that contingency plans were in place.These included putting an extra bed in a two-person cell, so that three prisoners would have to share one cell. The Youth Justice Board said there was also “ample” spare capacity in secure children’s homes and secure training centres which hold young offenders from the age of 10.
BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw says ministers may come under pressure to keep open two prisons that were due to close next month – Brockhill in Worcestershire and Latchmere House in south-west London.Prime Minister David Cameron has defended courts for handing out “tough” sentences for those involved in the riots.The Guardian newspaper has published analysis of riot-related cases that suggests rioters are being given prison terms that are on average 25% longer than usual. It also says 56 of 80 offenders sentenced by magistrates – or 70% – have been jailed, compared with a rate of 2% normally.
Some MPs and campaigners have said there have been examples of prison terms being too harsh.Lib Dem peer and Howard League for Penal Reform president Lord Carlile said some decisions were “questionable”.On Tuesday, two men were jailed for four years at Chester Crown Court for using Facebook to incite riots. Both are to appeal against the sentence.Max Hill QC, vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said it was not the job of judges “to deliver a political message on behalf of the government” when passing sentence but part of their role was to identify “serious aggravating features that elevate the crime beyond the ordinary”.He added: “In the case of the two in Chester, it seems that is exactly what the judge has done.” – BBC