Prisons get extra pounds 43m to ease crisis

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The Independent Online
The Government last night announced an emergency injection of pounds 43 million to tackle the crisis facing the prison service, which is worse than expected, and needs a series of emergency measures to hold the growing number of prisoners.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, will be questioned about the prison explosion next Tuesday before the newly-formed Commons select committee on home affairs, chaired by Labour MP Chris Mullin. He also announced last night fundamental reforms to the law and order system, which will foreshadow an expansion of the use of tagging in a Crime and Disorder Bill to be introduced in November.

The extra spending will create an additional 290 new places on top of the existing building programme, with more prison staff and funding to give prisoners more recreation time out of cells.

Mr Straw will announce today that the audit of the prisons, which was promised in Labour's election manifesto, shows the total prison population has risen to 62,286 - 1,600 more than expected only four months ago, the equivalent of two or three prisons. The total number in prison has risen by 40 per cent, about 17,000 a year, in the four years to June. About one fifth of those in prison are on remand and could be reduced by cutting court delays.

"What we are talking about is the legacy we have inherited from Michael Howard. It is a stopgap that will allow us to avoid putting prisoners in cells, but the audit has shown that the position is worse than we thought. Michael Howard talked tough, but he didn't provide enough money for prisons," said one ministerial source.

Sources said the expansion of tagging was being introduced to expand the range of penalties available to the courts, and was not a soft option to cut the numbers in prison. Mr Straw has privately ruled out tagging prisoners to allow them out on early release. Such a move would dramatically reduce the pressure on the prisons, but would be too controversial.

The prison service is looking at options to accommodate more prisoners, including about six sites, such as former military camps. The extra money is likely to be spent on providing additional units inside existing prisons.

The review of the criminal justice system will look at police efficiency with the possibility of more tasks carried out by civilians; merging the probation service with the prison services; cutting the cost of dealing with asylum cases; and savings on port controls.

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