Number of prisoners reaches new record

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The Independent Online

The prison population has reached a record high, despite government pledges to reverse the steady increase.

New figures show that the number of prisoners in England and Wales is 85,368 – 167 more than the previous record of 85,201 reached on 21 May and only 2,300 short of operational capacity.

The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has said that the prison population is too high and has promised to avoid jailing those convicted of minor offences by introducing more community sentences with greater emphasis on rehabilitation and tackling drug addiction. But the latest figures show that urgent action is required if the Government is serious about delivering on its promise.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "The Ministry of Justice reviews of sentencing and rehabilitation could call a halt to this unsustainable upward drift of prison numbers by ensuring that petty offenders do enforced community work, people who are mentally ill are diverted into healthcare and addicts into treatment."

The latest total prison population is also more than 14 per cent higher than six years ago.

Jon Collins, campaign director for the Criminal Justice Alliance, said: "The record prison population figures are a warning for the Government that they must act urgently to reduce the number of people in prison. There isn't the money available for the Government to try and build their way out of this prisons crisis. Two decades of mismanagement of the criminal justice system have resulted in a huge and unsustainable prison population. Unless action is taken to reduce the number of people in custody, the prison system will be simply unable to cope."