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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 09:20 GMT
Prison overcrowding a 'cancer'
Lincoln Prison
Lord Woolf: Overcrowding contributed to Lincoln riot
Imposing harsher sentences on a greater number of offenders has failed to combat crime effectively, England and Wales' most senior judge has said.

Reliance on custodial sentences has made overcrowding a "cancer" at the heart of the prison service, according to Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf.

Overcrowding had contributed to rioting at Lincoln Prison earlier this month in which inmates caused 2m worth of damage, he said.

Lord Woolf
Lord Woolf: More community sentences needed
His comments came as a report condemned overcrowding at Ford Open Prison where inmates were crammed into a converted storeroom.

Lord Woolf has warned the prison population could soar from 72,000 to an "unacceptable" 100,000 within 10 years if sentencing trends are not reversed.

He told an audience in Manchester: "The problem of overcrowding in prisons is a cancer eating at the ability of the Prison Service to deliver.

"The prison estate has a finite capacity.

"If you insist on trying to take in through the front door more prisoners than a prison can hold without letting the necessary number out of the back door, a prison will simply explode."

Jail should be reserved for serious and violent criminals, he said - which would free the Prison Service to concentrate on rehabilitation work.

Apology to victims

He called for a more "holistic" approach to criminal justice with more use of community-based penalties and drug treatment for minor offenders.

This would free the Prison Service to concentrate on rehabilitation work with those inmates who were most likely to benefit from it.

Home Office Minister Lord Falconer has agreed custodial sentences should be used more carefully.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there might be a role, in some circumstances, for an offender to apologise to his victim and possibly make reparation.

Asked if there was a message from the government on sentencing, Lord Falconer said: "Make sure you are using prison properly.

"Properly means for persistent, serious sexual or violent offenders."

'Appalling' conditions

Meanwhile prison inspectors criticised conditions at Ford Open Prison after they paid an unannounced visit.

They demanded facilities be "urgently improved to provide decent living conditions for all prisoners".

Ford open prison sign
Living conditions are "unacceptable" at the jail
"Some of the accommodation was appalling, providing neither privacy nor dignity," the report found.

The ex-military base, south of Arundel in Sussex, has held many high-profile prisoners, including former Guinness chairman Ernest Saunders, Lord Brockett and former racing driver John Bartlett.

More than 450 inmates were held at the full-to-capacity open prison when the three-strong inspection team viewed the jail in May.

In the report, the inspectors said: "While dormitories were excessively overcrowded, every possible nook and cranny was being pressed into service as prisoner accommodation."

This included the health care centre's waiting room, a cleaning storeroom and a dining room.

The inspectors said they were left with "an overriding sense of dismay about the poor conditions".

Phil Wheatley, deputy director general of the Prison Service, blamed an increase in the prison population which was "putting pressure on the entire prison estate".

The report praised the opening of a well-man screening clinic and the service in the education department.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Lord Falconer & Mike Newell, Prison Governer's Assc.
discuss possible solutions to overcrowding

Click here for more from Southern Counties
See also:

01 Feb 02 | England
11 Mar 99 | Politics
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