Politics

UK Riots 'Have Brought The Prison System To Its Knees'

Riot convictions have taken the prison population to another record high, leading to warnings of possible overcrowding from Labour and justice campaigners.

Since last weeks riots around 100 offenders have been sent to jail a day - more than 700 over the week - pushing inmate numbers across the UK to 86,654 offenders are in prison – up 1,563 from 2010, ministry of justice figures show. The rise in the number of inmates there are just over 1,400 free places in the prison system.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, told the Huffington Post UK sentences for rioters has brought the prison service “to its knees”.

"It is understandable that the courts have been asked to treat the public disturbances as an aggravating factor, but the balance between sending out a message and a proportionate response appears to have been abandoned in some of the sentences being handed down.

"The resulting flood of people into prison, many of them having never offended before, is bringing an already overcrowded system to its knees.”

A ministry of justice spokesman said they were putting plans in place in case of another spout of public disorder: "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 useable capacity should further pressure be placed on the prison estate.”

Shadow prisons minister Helen Goodman said prisons and officers were “overstretched”, calling for rioters to be sentenced “safely” in light of the figures.

“The violence that was seen on the streets of Britain last week must be punished, but the Tory-led government also have a responsibility to ensure that the sentences handed down are being served safely.

“Since May last year this Tory led Government has scrapped the prison building programme and have closed four prisons which has reduced prison capacity even further.”

Neilson warned that overcrowded prisons would not help rehabilitate rioters: "There will be no positive rehabilitative activity as it will be all staff can do to keep the peace and the danger is that the riots on the street are simply transferred to prisons.

"Ultimately, the most damaging outcome of the riots would be if any moves to reform sentencing are derailed.”