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Capacity crisis in jails leads to special parliamentary debate

30 June 2023

The capacity crisis in jails will be aired at a special debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday July 4, 2023. The debate was called for by the cross-party Justice Committee which scrutinises the work of the Ministry of Justice.

The prison population is at its highest ever level, at over 85,000, and it could rise to over 100,000 in the next four years. This is partly due to the recent large increase in the size of the police force, which will inevitably lead to more people being arrested and potentially jailed. 

The government has made a series of moves to try to cope with the crisis, including: 

  • Using police cells to hold prisoners when they are designed for short-term suspects;
  • Delaying maintenance where cells cannot be temporarily closed for work to take place; and
  • Reducing magistrates’ sentencing powers to stem the flow of prisoners into jails. 

The situation has alarmed prison governors and staff. The President of the Prison Governors Association, Andrea Albutt, told Channel 4 News recently:  

“Prisons that are full every single night are not safe places” 

The Justice Committee recently published an extensive survey of prison officers’ views. Half of them said they do not feel safe at work and over 80% of those surveyed said morale is not good.

Chair comment

The Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, said:  

“This is a shocking survey. The situation is not acceptable. The government risks failing in its duty of care to prison staff and prisoners alike. We are sitting on a potential time bomb. It must be defused”  

The debate next Tuesday is an ‘Estimates Day Debate’ where MPs can scrutinise government spending plans, and in particular the funding provided for HM Prison and Probation Service. The Ministry of Justice has committed to providing 20,000 new prison places and was allocated £4 billion in 2020 to pay for these. However, only £1.1 billion of this has been spent so far, with planning delays among the factors holding up the delivery of new prisons.

Further information

Image credit: UK Parliament / Tyler Allicock