LETTER:Overcrowded jails: the facts

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The Independent Online
From Mr Paul Cavadino

Sir: The reason why the country's jails are at bursting point ("Crisis looms as jails run out of space", 14 November) is a harsher climate in the courts, fanned by the Home Secretary's aggressive advocacy of more prison sentences. As a result, the prison population has risen by 3,500 this year alone, and by nearly 12,000 (or 29 per cent) since the end of 1992. On 30 September this year, 13 prisons were more than 30 per cent overcrowded (including three that were more than 50 per cent overcrowded and a further five that were more than 40 per cent overcrowded).

Despite these facts, prisons face an 8.9 per cent cut in their budgets over the next three years, and it appears that the public spending round will now produce an additional 5 per cent cut next year. Out of this smaller budget, prisons are having to spend more on the security measures introduced following the recent Woodcock report, as well as coping with more prisoners.

In short, the Prison Service is being put in an impossible position, in which the prospects for rehabilitation are receding while the risk of disturbances mounts. Yet at last month's Conservative Party conference, the Home Secretary proposed new policies which could add anything up to 30,000 more inmates to the prison population.

Is it any surprise that many prison staff see current penal policy as incomprehensible? If the Prison Service is to have any serious chance of rehabilitating prisoners, we need to return to sanity in criminal justice policy by re-emphasising the need to use prison sparingly.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Cavadino


Penal Affairs Consortium

London, SW9

14 November