London – Three Westminster politicians on Thursday called for Britain’s prison population to be slashed by almost half.
The call was made by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and two former Interior Ministers, Ken Clarke and Jacqui Smith.
They made the call after trouble flared at a number of prisons leading to a major riot involving 600 inmates at Birmingham Prison in November.
The cross-party politicians said British jails had become unacceptably dangerous, and they suggested cutting the number of prisoners locked-up reduced from a current prison population of around 86,000 to 45,000.
Their intervention was welcomed by the Howard League for Penal Reform, Britain’s leading campaign charity for a shake-up in the prison service.
The three politicians, in an article in Thursday’s London Times newspaper described the Birmingham riot as a wake-up call.
They said that there had been a 31 per cent increase in prison assaults in 2015, and one prisoner killed himself every three days.
“We believe that an escalating prison population has gone well beyond what is safe or sustainable.
“To restore order, security and purpose to our jails, ministers should now make it their policy to reduce prison numbers.
“If the tide is not turned soon, the prisons crisis will do untold damage to wider society,’’ they wrote.
Frances Crook, CRO of the Howard League, said that three former Cabinet ministers from across the political spectrum were supporting their call to reduce the prison population to its level under Margaret Thatcher’s premiership (when it was around 45,000).
“With violence and suicide behind bars at record levels, and with re-offending rates alarmingly high, the need for radical reform is abundantly clear.
“We cannot build our way out of this crisis, and recruiting a few more staff will not be enough to make prisons safe and purposeful.
“The only solution is to have fewer prisoners,’’ Crook noted.
Interior minister, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, has announced an investigation into the causes of the Birmingham riot.
According to reports, Britain’s current prison population is one of the highest in Europe.
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