Jails to get an extra pounds 69m

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THE SOARING prison population is continuing to drain money from the Government coffers as the Home Office was forced yesterday to announce an extra pounds 69m to cope with over-crowding.

The additional money, which will help keep the prison ship afloat, follows earlier promises of a pounds 43m cash injection in the past year. The extra cash up to April 1999 comes on top of the existing prison budget of pounds 1,704m.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said yesterday that the extra pounds 112m would provide 1,540 new jail places and the placing of an additional 2,280 prisoners in existing accommodation in England and Wales. It will cover the building of six new house blocks in jails around the country, the conversion of existing prison space into cells and the continued use of the prison ship HMP Weare, in Portland harbour, Dorset.

The total prison population in England and Wales currently stands at more than 64,300. The most recent Home Office estimates suggest that if current trends continue, that figure could rise to between 82,800 and 92,600 by 2005, requiring the building of up to 24 additional jails at a cost of pounds 2bn.

The recent predictions are far higher than previous ones, raising concerns that the Home Office will have to continue to pour in huge amounts of extra money for the next decade.

Tougher sentences and an increased willingness by the courts to jail more people for longer periods is blamed for the continued rise in the number of people behind bars.

Jack Straw hopes that extending non-custodial sentences, such as home curfews for those convicted monitored by electronic tags, will help to stem the rise, which has meant 20,000 extra inmates in four years.