Prison overcrowding attacked

The new director general of the Prison Service has questioned the value of the Criminal Justice Bill, and has challenged the government to tackle overcrowding in Briton’s jails.

Newly promoted Phil Wheatley criticised Mr Blunkett’s promotion of long mandatory sentences, suggesting prisons ought to be the last resort, not the panacea to deterring crime. He urged Mr Blunkett not to ‘overuse’ imprisonment.

Speaking on BBC1’s Breakfast with Frost, he commented: ‘It is expensive, it is disruptive to the loved ones of those who come inside, often entirely innocent families and children who find that their whole life has to change as a result, it is a difficult experience to get through, it shouldn’t be lightly used.’

Mr Wheatley suggested it was possible that the speed of inmates coming in and out of prison affected service provision, and that it was a possible cause of the high number of suicides in prisons. A record number of 105 inmates took their lives in England and Wales in 2002, many of which happened a short time after being imprisoned.

He said “This means that we are moving people into a local prison from the courts, then moving them out very quickly, with staff not having sufficient time to try to understand the individual needs of individual prisoners.

Prisoners are often among the most vulnerable people in society, with many suffering poor mental health problems and severe drug addiction.

The prison population in England and Wales Peaked earlier this summer at a record 74,000 and, according to some estimates, it is set to surpass 80,000 within three years.