Prison population hits new high

The prison population in England and Wales rose by almost 300 in a week to reach an all-time high for the fourth week running today, figures showed today.

The total number of prisoners hit 87,501, only about 1,000 short of the usable operational capacity of 88,533, Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures showed.

The rising prison population, up 287 from last week's record high of 87,214, has been fuelled by the tough sentences for those involved in last month's riots, along with two thirds of defendants being held on remand, compared with just one in 10 for serious offences last year.

Those involved in the riots have been jailed for an average of 10.4 months for violent disorder, compared with an average of 5.3 months last year.

For burglary, the average sentence for those involved in the riots was 14.1 months, compared with 8.8 months last year.

But no prison places are currently activated under Operation Safeguard, which would involve using cells at police stations as accommodation for prisoners, the MoJ said.

Other contingency plans could involve bringing on new accommodation early, using extra places in the public and private estate, or reopening mothballed accommodation.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Unless the courts set the way for a return to fair and proportionate sentencing and take account of public support for community payback and offenders making amends to victims, prisons will be reduced to vast, overcrowded warehouses, reconviction rates will rise and the public money saved by the Ministry of Justice thus far will be thrown away."