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Prison population hits highest level since 1900


The prison population has hit a record high for modern times, leaving just over 550 spare places in the system.

Figures published on Friday showed there were 88,225 inmates behind bars in England and Wales, up more than 200 in a week.

It beat the previous peak of 88,179 set in late 2011, and is the highest total since modern records began in 1900.

By comparison, there were just 44,000 offenders behind bars when then-Conservative home secretary Michael Howard delivered his famous ‘prison works’ speech in October 1993.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data showed there are now 557 available places in the crisis-hit jails.

However, these cells may not be suitable for everyone. For example, capacity may be in female prisons or in jails which offer the incorrect security level for each newly-sentenced offender.

A key factor in the prison population increase over recent years has been a sharp rise in the number of foreign national offenders serving time in Britain.

Latest data shows there were 10,321 foreign nationals incarcerated in England and Wales at the end of June - up seven per cent year-on-year. In 1993 the figure was about 3,400.

Foreign criminals now make up 12 per cent of the overall prison population, MoJ figures published in July revealed.

The most common nationalities were Albanians, who numbered about 1,400 and made up 14 per cent of the foreign prison population, followed by Poles (eight per cent), Romanians (seven per cent), Irish (six per cent), and Jamaicans and Lithuanians (both four per cent).

Earlier this week it emerged that judges had been told to delay sentencings of all convicted offenders who have been on bail - they could include rapists, burglars and other serious criminals.

From Monday, offenders who have been on bail will remain free after conviction until a delayed sentencing hearing can be held.

The halt on sentencings is expected to last ‘a couple of weeks’ until emergency measures, due to be announced within days, create headroom in the system, sources said.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk is poised to announce plans to allow hundreds of criminals to be freed early.

The ‘home detention curfew’ tag programme was broadened as recently as February - when the amount of time can offenders get taken off their sentences was increased from four-and-a-half months to six.

It is understood it could now be extended again to as much as 12 months.

An MoJ spokesman said any offender deemed a risk to public safety would remain in custody, but admitted jails are ‘under pressure’.