The UK’s prison population is now the highest in the European Union with almost 100,000 people behind bars, according to a new report. The study found that England and Wales had 85,134 inmates and detainees at the end of June 2016, while Northern Ireland had 1,500 and Scotland had 7,657. Of more than 40 administrations that took part in the analysis, only Turkey had more prisoners than the UK, with 192,627.
The UK’s prison population has come under scrutiny in recent years, due to soaring levels of overcrowding, violence, self-harm, drug-use and the squalid conditions in many jails revealed by inspectors. The latest prison report has blamed overcrowding for a further decline in conditions at HMP Leeds, which had already been poorly rated.
Highest Number of Prisoners Serving Life
England and Wales’ prison population doubled between 1993 and 2016 and has remained at around 80,000 in recent years.
According to the study, published by the Council of Europe, the UK’s population is currently considerably higher than those of Italy, France and Germany, which all stand between 50,000 and 70,000.
England and Wales have an incarceration rate of roughly 146 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants – higher than the European average of 127. England and Wales also have the highest numbers of prisoners serving life sentences, at 7,361.
‘£1.3 Billion Investment to Modernise Prisons’
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “The prison population has remained relatively stable since 2010, and whilst we recognise the need to reduce these numbers, we are clear that prisons are there to deliver the sentences of the court.
“Creating prisons that are safe, decent and secure will help offenders turn their backs on crime and lead law-abiding lives upon release. That is why we are investing £1.3 billion to modernise our prisons so they become places of rehabilitation and reform.”
Leeds Prison ‘Unsafe due to Overcrowding and Violence’
The report on prison populations was closely followed by the publication of another damning prison report.
The latest inspection of HMP Leeds found the jail to be dangerously overcrowded.
91 per cent of cells were holding more inmates than they were designed for. Levels of every kind of violence were unacceptably high. There had been four inflicted deaths since the prison’s last inspection. And almost two thirds of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs.
At the time of the inspection, the Victorian-built prison held 1,127 inmates – considerably more than its “certified normal capacity” of 669.
The previous inspection, in 2015, identified a decline in all four of the inspectors’ ‘healthy prison tests’.
Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said: “This inspection found a further decline in the area of purposeful activity, and no improvement in the three other tests.
“Perhaps this should come as no surprise given that the prison is one of the most seriously overcrowded in the country.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said “decisive action” was being taken to tackle the issues, including a specialist intelligence unit to tackle the supply of drugs into the prison.