Prisons in England and Wales are virtually full, official figures show.
By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
6:29PM BST 18 Oct 2013
A combination of tougher sentencing policies and cuts to prison place has left jails in England and Wales at more than 99 per cent full.
The prison population hit 84,987 in the last week, up 155 on the previous week, leaving the prison estate full to bursting.
There is little headroom for any further growth. Total capacity now stands at 85,828, down 230 places over the same period, after a nymber if prison closures.
The number of prisoners has fallen by more than 1,000 in the last 12 months, but a raft of jail closures has seen capacity drop by 5,246 places.
In total, 13 prisons have closed since May 2010, with three partially shut, and four more to close by next spring.
The Government is planning to build a so-called super prison in Wrexham, which will hold more than 2,000 inmates.
Campaigners said that questions had to be asked about whether the pace of the cuts in the Ministry of Justice should be slowed.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Questions need to be raised about the pace and scale of change in the justice system. There are enough prison places to hold serious and violent offenders for whom prison is the right place of last resort.
“Solutions lie not in closing small local prisons and building super-sized jails but in effective community sentences, treatment for addicts and mental health care.
“Cramming ever greater numbers of people into overcrowded prisons with fewer staff and less time out of cell is no way to transform rehabilitation.”
Labour seized on the figures. Shadow Justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP said: “Making sure there are enough spaces in our prisons for all those that need locking up is one of the basics of the job for any Justice Secretary.
“The public need confidence that when a judge sends someone down for a serious or violent crime, they can be locked away securely. I have been warning about the risk of prison places running out for three years now. It gives me no pleasure saying ‘I told you so’.”
Jeremy Wright, the prisons’ minister, tried to calm fears that prisons would soon run out of space to house convicted offenders.
Mr Wright said: “We have more than enough space within our prisons to accommodate all offenders without relying on police or court cells.
“I have been clear that we will never be in a position where we can’t take those sent to prison by the courts. What we won’t do is spend hard-earned taxpayers’ money on keeping open expensive capacity we do not need.”
Mr Wright brushed off the criticism from Mr Khan, saying: “This is rubbish and breathtaking hypocrisy from a party that under its watch let thousands of criminals out early because they hadn’t provided enough prison places.”
Separately, probation officers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over Government plans to privatise the service.
The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) said 84.4 per cent of members supported strike action on a 46 per cent turnout. A date for the strike is yet to be fixed.
If a strike goes ahead, it will be only the third time in its 101-year history that Napo will have taken such action.