Prison overcrowding reaches new seven-year high, figures show

More prisoners are living in cramped conditions

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Prison overcrowding has reached a new seven-year high, according to statistics released by the Government.

Over a quarter of prisoners, 25.5 per cent, now live in overcrowded cells designed for fewer people than the number they actually contain.

The new figure overtakes the previous 25.3 per cent high from 2008, also the earliest available year of statistics provided by the Government.

Overcrowding fell slightly and fluctuated during the intervening period.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the overcrowding of prisons would damage the ability of the justice system to rehabilitate people who had received a custodial sentence.

“Holding men in overcrowded cells with nothing to do all day is never going to help them become law-abiding citizens on release, and it is important that the true scale of overcrowding will be made known,” she said in a statement.

“Only by knowing what the problem is can we work together to find a solution.”

The practice of prisoners sharing cells, known as "doubling", was also at a similar high.

The new record comes amid a revision of figures by ministers after a minor administrative error.

The charity head welcomed the Ministry of Justice’s “new culture of honesty and accountability” in releasing the revised statistics, however.

The figures come after the Independent reported that private company G4S could lose the contract for a youth prison where children suffered racist abuse at the hands of staff under the influence of illegal drugs.

A highly critical Ofsted report revealed last month that staff at Rainsbrook had behaved “extremely inappropriately” towards children and caused them “distress and humiliation”.

The official body is set to make a further unannounced inspection in the autumn which ministers say could trigger the termination of the firm’s contract if problems aren’t solved. G4S said it was working to failures at the institution.

A spokesperson for the Prisons Service said the Government had created new prison places and wanted to get value for public money.

"We are committed to providing safe, decent and secure places for those in custody. That is why we have created around three thousand additional prison places since 2010," he said.

"Over the long term we will continue to modernise the prison estate, creating safer, more secure prisons and delivering better value for money to taxpayers."