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Thursday, January 29, 1998 Published at 07:18 GMT


Explosion in prison population predicted
image: [ By 2005 there could be almost twice as many inmates as in 1995 ]
By 2005 there could be almost twice as many inmates as in 1995

Up to 24 new jails, at a cost of almost £2 billion, may have to be built over the next seven years to cope with an explosion in prison numbers, the Government is warning.

New Home Office statistics show there will be 92,600 inmates behind bars in England and Wales by 2005 if the jail population continues to rise at the current rate, an increase of almost 30,000 on the current total.

[ image: More prisons and more staff add up to £300m extra running costs]
More prisons and more staff add up to £300m extra running costs
And on top of the building costs, the new prisons would cost more than £300m a year to run.

The figures dwarf the current expansion programme to provide an additional 9,000 places by 2001, including seven new prisons and extra house blocks at existing jails.

Although the statistics are a "worst case" scenario, even a "middle" scenario, based on an analysis of longer term trends, suggests the population will reach 82,800, requiring an extra 12 prisons costing just under £1bn.

[ image: Richard Tilt questions prison's value for money]
Richard Tilt questions prison's value for money
The Prison Service Director General, Richard Tilt, acknowledged that the "middle case" projection, which will provide the basis for the Service's future, is likely to prove very costly.

"It is a very expensive programme. People ought to question whether that is the best way to spend public money," he said.

He said that in many cases, non-custodial community sentences offered better value for public money.

"Some of the people who come into prison could be dealt with as effectively at a very much lower cost," he said.

The National Association of Probation Officers warned that the new Home Office projections spelt "disaster" for the criminal justice system.

"The Government is making the same mistakes as the Americans. Custody is now the central sentence," said NAPO assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher.

"All other punishments are becoming increasingly more punitive and therefore more expensive without the benefits of a significant fall in crime. If the Home Office carries on, the costs of punishment are bound to threaten education and other budgets with appalling results."

The figures are likely to alarm Chancellor Gordon Brown and Treasury officials anxious to keep a lid on public spending.

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