Socialist Worker

Prison overcrowding: Britain is becoming an incarceration nation

by Chris Eades
Issue No. 2022

Almost 80,000 prisoners now languish in Britain’s overcrowded jails, nearly double the 1993 incarcerated population. That is the crux of the overcrowding problem.

Britain incarcerates humans at a greater rate than any other nation in Western Europe. Labour has been instrumental in sending more people to prison for longer.

This government has introduced new life and indeterminate sentences, and has imposed mandatory minimum sentences for certain offences.

The average length of a custodial sentence in the crown court has risen from 20 months in 1993 to 27 months in 2004. Offenders who a decade ago might have had a community sentence now find themselves in prison.

The use of prison by magistrates’ courts has risen from 6 percent in 1993 to 16 percent in 2004. These are made up of petty offenders.

John Reid, the home secretary, now plans to house prisoners in police stations and army barracks. This is unlikely to make matters any better. Overcrowding already means that few prisoners get the “rehabilitation” that they need.

Most prisoners are not convicted of violent crimes, half of all prisoners under 25 have been in care and many suffer severe mental health and substance abuse problems.

Seven out of ten people leaving prison find themselves back in court again within two years. Prison isn’t working, yet we rely on it more and more.

Chris Eades is the policy and information officer at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Kings College.

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Sat 14 Oct 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2022
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