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Official figures ‘mask’ prison overcrowding

Almost a quarter of prisoners sleep in overcrowded cells, the Howard League for Penal Reform has warned.

A Freedom of Information request showed that from April 2012 – March 2013 about 19,140 inmates were sharing cells designated for a single person, while 777 slept three to a cell instead of two.

Covering England and Wales, the worst prison for this overcrowding was highlighted as HMP Wandsworth, where 835 prisoners shared cells designated for one.

The Howard League said: “Official government prison population announcements mask the full extent of overcrowding because they do not state how many cells are holding more prisoners than they are designed to.”

Frances Crook, Howard League chief executive, said: “It should come as little surprise that such crowded conditions leave staff hugely overstretched, especially as more are being laid off. This means there are little to no opportunities for prisoners to work, learn or take courses to turn them away from crime.

“If the Ministry of Justice is serious about reducing reoffending it must tackle overcrowding now. Successive governments have peddled the lie that you can build your way out of a prisons overcrowding problem.

“While public services are being cut, ministers should look at more effective and affordable solutions. They need to address the fact the prison population has doubled in just 20 years and move people on to community sentences.”

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright: “Let's be clear what overcrowding in prison actually means. Typically it means having to share a cell rather than have one to yourself. Prisoners are treated humanely but prison is not somewhere that anyone should be comfortable about going back to. All prisons have safe population levels and have capacity to take those sent there by the courts.”

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