Record high for prison population

The prison population in England and Wales reached a record high today.

The total number of prisoners hit 85,578, 83 more than the previous record of 85,495 set last October and just under 2,500 short of the usable operational capacity of 88,073, Ministry of Justice figures showed.



Criminal justice campaigners have called on the Government to reduce the number of people behind bars.



But last month Prime Minister David Cameron scrapped Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's "too lenient" plans to let offenders who plead guilty out of jail early.









Mr Clarke had proposed increasing the discount for the earliest guilty pleas from one third to a half in a bid to encourage more offenders to admit their crimes, saving costs and sparing victims the ordeal of a trial.



However, Mr Cameron forced him into an embarrassing U-turn after the plans came under fire from the Tory right and victims of crime.



A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We will always ensure there are sufficient prison places for offenders sentenced to custody by courts.



"There is currently a substantial margin between our available capacity and the actual population. New accommodation continues to become available and in the next 12 months 2,500 new places will become operational."









Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "As the prison population reaches an all-time high, it is more important than ever to address our failing penal policy.



"Every week we cram hundreds more people into our already bulging jails, only for people to leave prison unchanged and to go back to crime.



"Prisons are awash with drugs, violence and arson and this is inflicted on local communities when people leave prison.



"The answer to rising prison populations is not to build more failing jails. This ceaseless growth in prison numbers is untenable and I implore the Government to bite the bullet and find a strategic way to reduce the prison population by putting an end to short-term prison sentences.



"A record prison high is a sign of failure, not success."









Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Let's make this the last record high population and instead look to a year on year reduction in prison numbers.



"Money spent on treatment for addictions would cut crime quicker than putting more people behind bars.



"Inflation in sentencing and lack of proper investment in alternatives to custody drive numbers up.



"The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, currently before Parliament, offers a rare opportunity to break this pattern. To do so it must bring to an end the injustice of sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPPs), limit remands in custody to offences that could result in a prison sentence and remove mandatory minimum terms, leaving judges to pass fair and proportionate sentences in the full knowledge of the facts of each case.



"Most people would prefer a sensible system where the punishment fits the crime rather than have sentencing dictated by politics and headlines."



PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick