Sir: The shameful news that the prison population of England and Wales now exceeds 60,000 (report, 30 April) means that it has increased by nearly 50 per cent since the end of 1992, when the number of prisoners stood at 40,600. This country now has 116 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population, compared with 89 in France, 84 in Germany, 67 in Holland and 65 in Sweden. In the whole of Western Europe only Spain and Portugal jail proportionately more people than we do.
The pressure of numbers is most acute in the Victorian-built city centre prisons, which always bear the brunt of overcrowding. Sixteen such prisons are now more than 30 per cent overcrowded. Ten jails are overcrowded by more than 50 per cent, five by over 70 per cent, three by over 80 per cent, and one by over 90 per cent. More than 10,000 prisoners are now being held two to a cell designed for one person.
The record prison population is the result of an increasingly crude penal policy which has emphasised toughness at the expense of effectiveness and justice. As a result, money which should be devoted to improving regimes is being wasted on desperate attempts to expand the prison system by such makeshift methods as prison ships and converted holiday camps.
Any new government must reverse this punitive trend if it is to give prisons a real chance of rehabilitating offenders, rather than turning out embittered prisoners who are more likely to reoffend.
Chair, Penal Affairs Consortium