WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
July 14 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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English and Welsh prisons at ‘breaking point’ in a matter of weeks

English and Welsh prisons at ‘breaking point’ in a matter of weeks

Pic: Andy Aitchison, ©PrisonImage

Prisons will be completely full and unable to accept any more inmates by the second week of July according to prison governors.

Reporting in the Guardian has revealed that ‘operational capacity breaking point’ will be reached just a week after the General Election. This will leave the new government facing an ‘immediate crisis’.

This information was given to the Heads of Jails in England and Wales by the HM Prison and Probation Service based on data obtained earlier this month. Ministry of Justice data from the 14 June suggested that whilst the usable capacity in prisons across England and Wales was 88,815, the current prison population was already at 87,347.

It is expected that the government in power will be required to resort to measures taken under Operation Early Dawn, which is a short-term solution to localised population pressures that allows for the potential delay of magistrate court hearings and for offenders to be kept in police cells when there is no space available for them. This would have to run alongside the temporary government scheme which allows prisoners to be released up to 70 days early.

Speaking to the Guardian, Tom Wheatley, the president of the Prison Governors Association, said: ‘We understand that we will no longer be able to receive prisoners from court in the second to third week of July. It is not an exact science – but it is very soon after the election.’ He further commented that, despite this position being ‘projected some time ago’. The outgoing government did not take the necessary action in a timely fashion to avoid this.

Wheatley said that if any new government seeks to encourage the admission of more people to prison this would put staff at risk and might be challenged in court.

As previously reported in the Justice Gap, the prison crisis in England and Wales is becoming ‘increasingly unsustainable’ and government measures such as Operation Early Dawn have been criticised for only serving to ‘exacerbate the chaos and uncertainty’ faced by the vulnerable awaiting trial.

Earlier this week, Lord Falconer, a former Labour Justice Secretary, backed calls to scrap jail terms of less than a year amid the crisis in prison overcrowding. This came following a report by the Centre for Justice Innovation which has suggested the future government should aim to release people serving less than 4 year sentences at 40% of their time served (rather than the current 50%), unless they are considered to pose a high risk of serious harm to the public.

Whilst pressure mounts in the prison system, the Conservative manifesto does not indicate any plans to scrap short prison sentences. Plans to ensure that prison sentences under 12 months are predominantly served in the community have also been shelved.

Labour have indicated they will aim to get planning permission to build new prisons, but there are currently no clear plans for how they would deal with the immediate overcrowding crisis.

 

 

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