Prisons' chief rejects call for action to tackle overcrowding

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

The head of the Prison Service yesterday rebuffed suggestions by one of his directors that jails in England and Wales were likely to be full in a few weeks and that urgent contingency measures should be drawn up to cope with the overspill.

Richard Tilt, the acting director-general of the Prison Service, admitted there were problems with overcrowding, but insisted that new accommodation was being built.

Prison officers yesterday warned that overcrowding made rioting more likely and predicted the problem was about to get worse as the Government intended to cut their budgets by 5 per cent in next week's Budget.

Mr Tilt's comments follow the publication of a confidential letter by Alan Walker, the Prison Service's director of operations (South), who said that new analysis "indicates that there may be insufficient usable accommodation available during late November and early December, and between February and June 1996".

A record 52,444 people were being held in jails in England and Wales last Friday.

He went on to call an urgent meeting with the Prison Officers' Association and proposed to move new inmates into local prisons, which are usually used for people on remand, those newly sentenced prisoners, and long-term jails, such as Dartmoor.

But Mr Tilt, speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio, said: "We have an increasing prison population but we have been increasing the amount of accommodation. The population has gone up but the level of overcrowding is lower than it was at the beginning of the 1990s."

He added that the number of inmates was only about 700 more than the Prison Service expected and suggested that any talk of possible rioting or disturbances resulting from overcrowding was dangerous as it may give inmates ideas.