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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 16:50 GMT
New record high prison population
Jack Straw
Jack Straw: More prisons on the way
The prison population in England and Wales has hit a new record high.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show the number of inmates in jail and police cells stood at 81,681 as of Friday morning.

That figure beats the previous record figure of 81,547, which was set in November 2007.

The government has pledged a massive prisons building programme - but campaigners say they need to do more to rehabilitate offenders.

Figures show that the population in jails has crept up in recent weeks after dropping over the Christmas period.

While the prison service now has more cells available because of an accelerated building programme, the figures show that 375 police cells were housing convicts on Friday morning.

Kennet prison in Merseyside, opened a week ago, has 340 places - but that expansion was lower than the national prison population's increase over the past seven days.

Recent increase

Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust said: "The record high prison population for England and Wales has been fuelled in recent weeks by a sharp increase in the numbers of remand and short term prisoners.

"Despite opening a new prison this week and extra cell blocks wherever space allowed, government attempts to build its way out of this crisis have failed."

Separate figures show that 2,366 prisoners are being supervised under home detention curfew. A further 16,000 others have been released early since the introduction of emergency measures.

Ministry of Justice figures show that the prison population was almost exactly 2,000 lower on the same Friday in 2007, with only 24 inmates in police cells.

In January Justice Secretary Jack Straw pledged reforms to cut reoffending rates. He said new programmes would tackle drug abuse in jails and improve the skills of inmates being released back into the community.

The government also said it would press ahead with three huge "Titan" prisons in south-east England, the North West and West Midlands.

But in her recent annual report, prisons watchdog Anne Owers criticised the government's policies, saying that important good work to improve prison conditions was now at risk because of a "predicted and predictable" overcrowding crisis.

That crisis had been managed to avoid "disaster" she said - but the system was now standing at a crossroads.


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