Quarter of Shropshire inmates held in overcrowded conditions, says charity
A quarter of inmates at a Shropshire prison are held in overcrowded conditions, according to campaigners for prison reform.
The figures released by the Howard League for Penal Reform show that 208 out of 755 prisoners Stoke Heath in Market Drayton were in overcrowded cells for the year up until March.
Overall the charity says that 18,000 prisoners are crammed into cells holding too many people across the country.
The Howard League said that most prisoners living in overcrowded conditions are required to share cells that were designed for one person. It says a smaller number may be forced to sleep three to a cell, in cells meant for two.
Overall, three in five men’s prisons are holding more people than they are certified to look after according to the statistics.
The organisation said that local prisons – which tend to hold prisoners on short sentences, awaiting sentence, on remand awaiting trial or awaiting transfer to another prison category – are under the most pressure from overcrowding.
The worst-affected prison was Wandsworth, in south London, where on a typical day more than 1,100 prisoners are held in cells that are overcrowded.
Other jails with particularly high numbers of prisoners in overcrowded cells include G4S-run Oakwood near Wolverhampton, with 916 in cramped conditions, Leeds where it is 786, Durham with 785, Sodexo-run Forest Bank with 739, Serco-run Doncaster with 695, G4S-run Altcourse with 686, Serco-run Thameside with 596, Preston with 517, Hull with 511, Birmingham with 484, Pentonville with 483, Elmley with 447, Cardiff with 444, Bullingdon with 397, and Exeter with 375.
The Howard League said that the figures indicate that prisons with high levels of overcrowding are also likely to see high levels of violence.
Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice have also revealed that incidents of self-injury and assault in prisons have risen to record levels. Prisons recorded 57,968 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 – at a rate of one every nine minutes.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Keeping thousands of men cooped up like battery hens in overcrowded cells is never going to help them to lead crime-free lives on release.
“This is an intolerable situation and, while the numbers have come down slightly in recent years, they remain frighteningly high. The figures reveal a clear relationship with overcrowding and violence in prisons.
"This is a challenge for the new Secretary of State for Justice, who now has a chance to build a positive legacy. Bold action to reduce the number of people behind bars would not only ease pressure on the prisons; it would save lives, protect staff and prevent crime.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “All of our prisons are within their operational capacity which means they are safe for offenders.
“We are building new prisons in Wellingborough and Glen Parva and have recently opened a new houseblock at HMP Stocken to help reduce crowding as part of our modernisation of the prison estate.”