Overcrowded jails 'put safety at risk'

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The Independent Online

Safety and security in most prisons is being jeopardised by overcrowding, according to a survey of watchdog groups.

Safety and security in most prisons is being jeopardised by overcrowding, according to a survey of watchdog groups.

More than three quarters of prison boards of visitors – appointed by the Home Secretary to monitor jail conditions – said their institution had been affected by the record number of inmates.

The report by the Prison Reform Trust said suicides had become more frequent and tension had reached "potentially explosive" levels.

Some boards said the safety of prisoners was being severely jeopardised. The watchdog group for Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight hinted that there could be another case like the murder of Zahid Mubarek by a racist who shared his cell at Feltham young offenders' institution in west London in March 2000. This was because officers were unable to carry out full risk assessments before putting two inmates in cells designed for one. Of the 100 boards surveyed, 77 said their prison had been affected by overcrowding and 27 per cent said security or prisoners' safety had suffered. Forty one per cent said overcrowding was affecting the quality of the prison regime, such as the amount of work done to prevent reoffending.

Overcrowding had led to the number of assaults increasing in some jails. It also meant inmates being held in prisons far from home and being locked up in inappropriate parts of the jails. Some boards said inmates had to eat meals while sitting on the lavatory because cells were so cramped.

The prison population in England and Wales is at an all-time high of 71,757, compared with less than 46,000 in 1992.