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UK justice system in the grip of crisis

Justice system remains a long way from recovering from pandemic with huge crown court backlogs and prisoners spending 22.5 hours a day in cells.

THE justice system in England and Wales is “in the grip of a crisis” which “makes clear the madness” of government plans to cram thousands more people into prison, the Howard League for Penal Reform said yesterday.

Andrew Neilson, the league’s director of campaigns, was responding to a new report by the four chief inspectors overseeing each part of the criminal justice system – prisons, prosecutions, probation and police.

The report says that prisons in England and Wales have still not recovered from the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and that the justice system is operating at  “unacceptable levels.”

Prisoners are being locked in their cells for 22.5 hours a day, hundreds of hours a day of unpaid probation work is not completed, no action is being taken to reduce court backlogs and the government lacks a co-ordinated plan to deal with the crisis, the report concludes.

HM chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor said: “This report reflects our serious concerns about the ability of the criminal justice system to recover, even to its pre-Covid state.”

According to the report, a quarter of cases due before a crown court have been waiting for more than a year and there has been a 340 per cent increase in delayed cases since March 2020.

Mr Taylor said that even in the parts of the system where there were signs of “business as usual” returning, “it is with an exhausted workforce.”

Mr Neilson commented: “This report not only lays bare the crisis which has taken a grip of the criminal justice system but it makes clear the madness of government policy, which is currently projected to increase the size of the prison population by over 20 per cent within five years.”

The UK prison population stood at 79,279 in April.

“As the inspectorates say, the challenges faced due to failures in pandemic recovery are both immediate but also likely to be far-reaching, Mr Neilson continued.

"Expanding the prison population at such a time seems doomed to multiply the challenges faced, with a failing system making crime more and not less likely.

“Only a fundamental review of the pipeline between courts and custody is going to allow the criminal justice system to stabilise itself and move forward in the most effective and humane way possible.”

Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson said: “This report exposes as a complete fallacy the idea that the criminal justice system is back to ‘normal’, or anything close to it."

The outcome for prisoners is the same — endless days spent behind a cell door, with all the disastrous consequences for both health and public protection that the report sets out."

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