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Prison Overcrowding

According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, over 12,000 prisoners are being held two to a cell designed for one. Many of these cells have unscreened toilets which fail to provide even the most basic of human dignity. In a desperate attempt to find empty beds, prisoners are being transported all over the country. In 2001, 37,000 prisoners were being held over 50 miles away from home, for 5,000 of these the distance was more than 150 miles. This cost the taxpayer millions of pounds in transportation costs and in delays to the criminal justice system as a result of late arrivals for court appearances. It also jeopardises family relationships and the chances of successful re-integration back into the community on release; two of the most important factors in reducing re-offending.

The huge prison population is undermining any good work the prison service is trying to do in terms of making the prison experience constructive for the majority prisoners. Educating prisoners in areas such as literacy and numeracy, as well as other skills, are essential to rehabilitation. Put simply, unemployment upon release only encourages an ex-convict to re-offend. In 2001-2 the prison service failed to meet its own target of providing prisoners with at least 24 hours of purposeful activity for week. Only 3 out of 40 of the male local prisons (those holding predominantly remand and short sentence prisoners) which suffer the worst overcrowding managed to meet this target.

As a whole, the prison system has been overcrowded every year since 1994. Many jails exceed the Prison Service's definition of overcrowding, but meet a level considered safe. At the end of January 2006, 78 prisons (53%) were overcrowded. And it will get worse - the Home Office has warned that the prison population could increase by more 37,000 by the end of the decade. If the predictions are correct income tax would need to increase by two and a half pence to cover the £3.5 billion cost.

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