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THE Tory government is putting more people behind bars than any other country in western Europe, figures from the Prison Reform Trust reveal today.
A government policy of banging people up for even minor offences has placed Britain in a “shameful” position, the trust said.
The number of people locked up is twice as high as Germany, and three times that of Italy and Spain, its findings show.
And the trust said the Tories’ “addiction” to imprisonment means that Britain’s prison population is “more than Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia combined.”
Britain’s prison population is at a record 82,400, with many crammed into Victorian prisons designed to house half the number contained in them.
The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said its members were suffering as a result of the Tories’ approach, with increasing levels of violence.
POA chairman Mark Fairhurst told the Star: “The POA cannot change sentencing policy but our members suffer from the effects of an increasing prison population.
“Overcrowding, self-harm, suicides and record levels of assaults on staff are a legacy of the austerity measures and lack of investment the Tories have created.
“We need to modernise our prisons so offenders leave with hope and are able to contribute to society.
“Privatising new-build prisons is not the answer. Profit should not be put before safety and making money out of a person’s incarceration is inherently wrong.
“It is the Tories who have created this mess and the onus is on them to listen and act.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon also said that prison overcrowding was a direct hindrance to rehabilitation of prisoners.
“We need to reduce the use of ineffective short sentences and strengthen alternatives to custody to help tackle high levels of prison overcrowding, which does so much to undermine rehabilitation,” he said.
“Labour is currently carrying out a consultation on how, in government, we can best achieve this.”
The Prison Reform Trust research reveals that the prison population in England and Wales is nearly 70 per cent higher than three decades ago.
Each year England and Wales had over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, which has a bigger population.
Scotland had the highest prison population per head, with 150 people locked up for every 100,000 people. England and Wales have 139 and Northern Ireland 76.
A huge 81 out of 120 prisons in England and Wales were also found to be overcrowded.
Trust director Peter Dawson said: “These figures show the scale of the challenge that we face in breaking our addiction to imprisonment.
“Planned measures to limit the use of short sentences and correcting failed reforms to probation are both steps in the right direction.
“But our shamefully high prison population rates won’t be solved by these alone — a public debate about how we punish the most serious crime is overdue.”
Howard League for Penal Reform director Andrew Neilson said: “Prisons will continue to be toxic and violent institutions as long as we insist on their indiscriminate use.
“Stuffing prisons with people simply creates more crime and more victims of crime. Other jurisdictions understand this and it’s high time the government here took radical and decisive action to reduce prison numbers.”
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