Prison numbers in England and Wales reach record high

Prison warden stands against iron bars
Image caption The operational capacity is the point at which prisons can be controlled and kept secure

The prison population in England and Wales has reached a record high for the third week running, in the wake of last month's riots in England.

The number of inmates in jails, young offender institutions and immigration removal centres stands at 87,214 - 94 more than last Friday, figures show.

The operational capacity is 88,818, so there are more than 1,600 spare places.

The government has again insisted there will be enough prison places for anyone jailed for the violence and looting.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show about two-thirds of those brought before the courts over the riots have been remanded in custody, compared with one in 10 of those charged with serious offences last year.

Tougher sentences

As well as the increase in the proportion of defendants being held on remand, sentences for those involved in the riots were tougher too, the figures suggest.

Those involved have been jailed for an average of 10.4 months for violent disorder, compared with an average of 5.3 months last year.

For burglary, the average for those involved in the riots was 14.1 months, compared with 8.8 months last year.

No places are currently being used under Operation Safeguard, which would involve the use of cells at police stations.

The operational capacity of prisons in England and Wales is the point at which prisons can be controlled, kept secure and operated satisfactorily.

An MoJ spokeswoman said: "We currently have enough prison places for those being remanded and sentenced to custody as a result of public disorder.

"We are developing contingencies to increase usable capacity should further pressure be placed on the prison estate."

Other contingency plans could involve bringing on new accommodation early, using extra places in the public and private estate, or reopening mothballed accommodation.

But Geoff Dobson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "With the economy in crisis, yet another record high prison population should trigger some searching questions about our approach to criminal justice.

"The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill gives government the opportunity to put in place, for less serious offences, effective community measures that would improve victim satisfaction and command public confidence."

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