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December 5, 2007

The struggle with prison overcrowding in the UK

Just like nearly every state in the US, the UK is struggling with overpacked prisons.  This Reuters story details the problems and the government's brewing reponse:

Justice Secretary Jack Straw will reveal on Wednesday how the government plans to deal with the crisis of overcrowding in prisons.  He will publish the findings of a review by life peer Lord Carter which newspapers report may controversially recommend keeping convicted offenders out of jail when there is not enough space to lock them up. The review may also propose selling off inner-city jails on prime development land and using the proceeds to build more prison space elsewhere to hold high-risk inmates.

At the end of last week, jails were so full with 81,864 prisoners that 177 offenders were being held in police cells.  The government has been forced to release 11,000 prisoners early since June to cope with the lack of cells.

Straw has indicated in recent speeches that he favours a greater use of non-custodial sentences, especially for those given sentences of less than a year.  The prison population has been rising because sentences have grown longer, with average custodial sentences from crown courts rising to over 25 months from 20 months between 2005 and 1995.

And this related story from The Times is headlined "Hopes pinned on American-style sentencing grid to reduce prison overcrowding."  Here is how it starts:

Radical proposals to examine a US-style system of sentencing intended to control the number of offenders sent to overcrowded jails will be outlined by ministers today, The Times has learnt.

Senior judges have expressed concern that the controversial proposals to review the prison-building programme and the impact of sentencing on population could lead to curbs on their sentencing powers.

December 5, 2007 at 07:43 AM | Permalink


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When we were there last year the problem was getting a lot of attention. There were placing high risk prisoners in open prisons (what we call residential work release facilities) and as soon as they arrived they absconded. A woman who had absconded had set up a blog where she was taunting the corrections officials. Naturally folks were very angry and Straw was being blasted several times a week by irate members of parliament.

I was amazed to discover they had been using prison ships in the recent past (evidently they had to find out the hard way how much it costs to operate a ship).

Posted by: John Neff | Dec 5, 2007 3:11:45 PM

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