Home UK News “Prisons will be full by July”

“Prisons will be full by July”

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HMP Thameside

The chief of the Prison Governors’ Association (PGA) has warned that prisons will be at capacity by next month and has threatened legal action if the government attempts to cram more inmates in.

Andrea Albutt indicated that last year an in-depth analysis was conducted to calculate the highest number of inmates that could be kept securely in each jail. She also declared that the PGA, joined with other labor unions, is sure they can win a legal case if the government attempts to go beyond this number.

She recommended that the Government enact a program of early release in order to maintain the current incarceration rate. Ministers recently experimented with this approach, allowing individuals to spend up to six months on home detention curfew, instead of the standard four-and-a-half.

Later this year, Albutt will step down after eight years as president of the PGA. Delivering a speech at Westminster to MPs and peers on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Penal Affairs, she said: “We have a perfect storm situation at present. Our prisons are full and the prison building programme cannot keep pace with the increase in the prison population.” She added: “There is no more room at the inn.”

During the Covid pandemic in England and Wales in 2021, there were just under 78,000 prisoners. Beginning in 2023, this number had increased to 82,200. Following 20 consecutive weeks of growth, there are now 85,400 prisoners, just 800 short of the “usable operational capacity” of the nation.

Albutt cited the policies enacted by successive Conservative justice secretaries that had led to an increase in the prison population, including the extension of mandatory incarceration periods.

She said: “For several years, the PGA has voiced concern over the government’s tough-on-crime agenda and the impact on an already-stretched system, which has suffered from lack of investment for well over a decade. Many of our prisons are not providing a safe, decent and rehabilitative environment.”

In a damning assessment of how the Conservatives have managed prisons since coming to power in 2010, she stated that prisons have been subject to “short-termism, party politics, constant changing secretaries of state, and individual ministerial priorities.” She stated that the previous thirteen years had left “a legacy of dire repercussions for everyone who lives and works in prisons.”

During Chris Grayling’s tenure as secretary of justice from 2012 to 2015, personnel numbers and maintenance budgets were reduced, the probation service was partially privatised, and facilities administration was outsourced.

She said that as a result, violence and self-harm increased while “the crumbling estate became so dilapidated that large parts of it were unfit for human habitation but remained in use”. She added: “To this day we have not recovered from this catastrophic reduction in funding.”

The Government is taking action in order to address the overcrowding occurring in prisons. These plans include “Operation Safeguard”, which designates 400 police cells to be used when prisons become overcrowded, as well as Rapid Deployment Cells, which are temporary structures placed in the prison yard.

In her speech, Albutt also criticised the government’s decision not to prioritise prisoners and prison personnel for Covid vaccination in 2021, despite the advice of public health experts. She referred to it as “sinful” and stated, “This decision was based on what public opinion would think as opposed to what was the right thing to do to stop the spread of the virus within prisons and out into the wider community.”

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