Crime could rise if Britain plunges back into recession, the Justice Secretary has admitted.
Ken Clarke told MPs the prison population may increase if economic recovery stalls, sparking more thefts, robberies and burglaries.
He said: "It is possible with a prolonged recession, with a prolonged period of youth employment, there will be an increase in acquisitive crime.
"That's the experience we have in this country."
Speaking at justice questions in the Commons, Mr Clarke said the Government is ready to provide cells for offenders jailed by judges and magistrates.
He added: "We respond to decisions of the courts, we respond to levels of crime."
The prison population hit a record high earlier this month of 88,179 - just 1,203 short of the usable operational capacity - as courts continued to jail rioters and looters involved in the widespread disorder which swept across English cities in August.
Mr Clarke said ministers would "adjust capacity of the estate" if needed.