Nearly a quarter of all prisoners are forced to stay in overcrowded cells while serving their sentences, according to new figures released today.
More than 19,000 prisoners have to share single cells in some of the most criticised and oldest jails in the prison estate, the figures obtained by a prison charity show. The total prison population is around 84,000.
A further 777 people are made to sleep three to a cell, when the cells are designed to accommodate only two.
The worst affected prison in England and Wales was Wandsworth, in south London, where on a typical day in 2012-2013, 835 inmates were forced to share cells which contained an open toilet, said the Howard League for Penal Reform. The last prison inspectors’ report from 2011 said conditions for too many prisoners at the jail was “demeaning, unsafe and fell below what could be classed as decent”.
Other prisons where more than 600 prisoners shared cells included the G4S-run Altcourse and Birmingham, Serco-run Doncaster and the Victorian prisons of Preston and Pentonville. Manchester, formerly known as Strangeways, also had more than 600.
The government releases monthly statistics but does not detail cell-sharing in prisons.
Frances Crook, Howard League chief executive, said: “At last, we have the picture of the real state of overcrowding in our prisons. It’s far worse than anyone imagined: one in four people behind bars are packed like sardines into cramped cells.
“Staff cuts and overcrowding mean that grown men spend all weekend and up to 22 hours a day during the week cooped up like battery chickens. No wonder violence and self-injury is rife. “If the Ministry of Justice is serious about reducing reoffending it must tackle overcrowding now.”
Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said: “Let’s be clear what overcrowding in prison actually means – typically it means having to share a cell rather than have one to yourself. Prisoners are treated humanely but prison is not somewhere that anyone should be comfortable about going back to.
“All prisons have safe population levels and have capacity to take those sent there by the courts.”
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