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Jails full as inmates reach record number
Richard Ford

Dozens of prisoners were housed in court cells this week after space ran out in prisons and police stations. The jail population in England and Wales reached a record 81,681 yesterday.

After a sudden increase in the number of short-sentence prisoners, the Prison Service declared the jail system “full” for the second time in eight months and turned to court cells to house the overflow.

Between 50 and 100 prisoners were housed in cells at West London, Highbury and Mansfield magistrates’ courts from Tuesday to Thursday. It was not clear whether prisoners were being held in court cells last night.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “A limited number of court cells have been made available to help ensure that exceptional population pressures can be managed safely and securely. They are a measure of last resort and are only used if accommodation in prison and police cells is exhausted.”

It is costing the Prison Service an average £420 a night to hold a prisoner in a police cell and £300 a night in a court cell compared with an average £75 a night in a Category B prison.

Last year Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, criticised conditions at West London Magistrates’ Court after an inspection found that prisoners were being held in cells over a weekend with no activity, no natural light and no exercise facilities.

Prison numbers began rising steeply after the usual fall at Christmas and have increased by almost 2,000 in the past five weeks, including by more than 400 in the past seven days.

Court cells were last used to house prisoners in June and shortly afterwards the Government announced an emergency early-release scheme intended to ease the pressure. Since then 16,000 offenders serving between four weeks and four years for nonserious violence and nonsexual crimes have been released 18 days early......Article conts (-)

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