Alternatives to remand urged to tackle overcrowding in prisons

The Prison Service should consider releasing people with mental health problems and remand prisoners from jails in a bid to conquer overcrowding problems, a report published today said.

The prison population has been rising steadily during the 1990’s and on 1 November 2005, there were 77,800 prisoners being held in jails in England and Wales.

But the report published today by the Public Accounts Committee highlights that around 13,000 of the 77,000 prison population are on remand. Around 30 per cent of these prison places could be freed up, it says, based on the numbers who are remanded into custody but who do not receive a custodial sentence when convicted.

The report urges the National Offender Management Service to encourage greater use of alternatives to remand such as electronic tagging.

The Committee also highlight that around 700 prisoners each year are transferred to hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 and urges the Prison Service to “evaluate quickly its new anti-suicide monitoring measures and mental health in reach in prisons to determine their effectiveness and to ensure best practice is adopted across the estate”.

The report stresses that overcrowding can hamper the education and training that prisoners receive as prisoners are often moved round the estate at short notice, disrupting education programmes.

“The Prison Service should now seek to avoid moving prisoners participating actively in educational programmes, and look to develop modular training programmes to facilitate continuance of education when a move is unavoidable,” the report said.

It also calls on the Prison Service to develop short courses targeted at prisoners on short-term sentences who often receive little or no training during their sentence.

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