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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Tackling UK's overcrowded prisons
Home Secretary John Reid
Home Secretary John Reid will discuss some alternatives
The number of people in jails in England and Wales has nearly full capacity, according to the Home Office. The department's boss, Home Secretary John Reid, has met officials from the National Offenders Management Service and the Immigration Service to discuss alternative measures to alleviate the crisis. What are they?


Early Executive Release is an emergency measure provided for in section 32 of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

It has never been used before in the UK and only the Home Secretary has the power to make the decision to release an inmate in this way.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The powers are there to enable the Home Office to address 'urgent' short-term prison population issues.

"They allow the Home Office to release a prisoner up to six months early.

"They would be implemented by an order, which would specify the category of prisoner that would be released.

"This would be debated by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords."

Such a power was likely to be used for "low risk category prisoners", he added: "We would be extremely reluctant to use it."


A deportation for scheme for the removal of foreign nationals was introduced in 2004.

In this situation, the inmate is released 135 days before he/she has served half of their sentence.

The government also has "international agreements" with a number of countries for prisoners to serve their sentence in their country of origin.

Under this measure, the inmate must also agree to be transported home.

We believe that wherever possible, foreign nationals should serve their sentence in their country

Home Office

However, the government is planning to remove the veto aspect of the measure so the prisoner longer has the power to refuse to go.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are changing it [the veto] through the Police and Justice Bill to remove prisoners consent - it is currently at the report stage in the House of Lords.

"We believe that wherever possible, foreign nationals should serve their sentence in their country."


Prisoners are not routinely held in police cells as a result of overcrowding.

When population pressures result in police cells being used, it is under an arrangement between the Prison Service and the police called "Operation Safeguard".

Operation Safeguard was last used between 11 July and 20 December 2002.

"Operation Safeguard has principally been used for male remand prisoners to accommodate them close to the court," the Home Office spokesman added.

"We avoid using them [police cells] for vulnerable prisoners at risk such as children and women."


Britain's only prison ship - HMP Weare - closed in August 2005, amid controversy after Chief Inspector of Prisons Ann Owers described the vessel, then based in Portland, Dorset, as "unsuitable, expensive and in the wrong place".

Her criticism followed the publication of the results of an inspection of the 400-capacity jail, which revealed that prisoners had no access to fresh air or other facilities which Ms Owers deemed necessary.

HMP Weare
The UK's only prison ship HMP Weare has now been sold

Ms Owers said at the time: "[The prison] has no space for workshops, and insufficient space for exercise or education.

"Despite the best efforts of staff or managers, HMP Weare is entirely unsuitable for its present function as a 21st Century category C training prison."

She went on to make 116 recommendations for improving the facility.

A Home Office spokesman said the vessel has since been sold, adding: "We need to look at all measures to avoid overcrowding getting out of control.

"Of the 8,000 new prison places we are creating, 200 will be at Connaught Barracks near Dover, which is MoD [Ministry of Defence] land.

"Initially, 200 inmates will be arriving by the end of the year."

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