The prison population reached a record high on Friday, despite reports last week that prisons were only about 1,800 inmates short of their usable operational capacity.
Ministry of Justice figures showed a hike from 86,842 to 87,120 prisoners in just a week - and there are concerns that the statistics signal failure rather than heralding a policing success.
Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook said of the 278 rise: "A record prison population is a sign of failure, not success. It shows that we are still not solving the problems that lead to crime in the first place. As the prison population reaches an all-time high, it is more important than ever to address our failing penal policy.”
The tough approach taken by judges and magistrates in response to the August riots was seen as partly to blame for the rising prison population. Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt has said there would be a "one-off" increase in prisoner numbers as people serve their sentences but that the new wave of inmates would not necessarily change long-term estimates of the jail population. The rising numbers of prisoners could have worrying consequences for prison conditions, as well as a knock on effect on penal reform. Crook said:
“Every week we cram hundreds more men, women and children into our already bulging jails, awash as they are with drugs, violence and arson. The prison service has to focus on security and maintenance of basic amenities, rather than resettlement and rehabilitation”