There are just 651 spare places available in prisons across the whole of England and Wales, new figures reveal as ministers consider renting cells in Estonia
There are just 651 spare prison places available across the whole of England and Wales, new figures revealed today – as ministers consider renting cells in Estonia.
There are currently 88,016 people in jail across the country – the highest number in 12 years and nearly 10 per cent more than last year’s figure of 81,423.
There are 88,667 cells in total, meaning just 651 remain spare. Official projections say the prison estate could run out of room by the end of the year.
Earlier this week Justice Secretary Alex Chalk revealed he was looking into a plan to hire prison cells in other countries for the first time.
Estonia is one of the countries being considered, The Times reported.
Earlier this week Justice Secretary Alex Chalk revealed he was looking into a plan to hire prison cells in other countries for the first time
Renting foreign prison cells will require a change in the law.
A Tory spokesman said: ‘Exploratory discussions with possible partners in Europe have already taken place and are ongoing.
‘Agreements would mean that prisoners in the UK could be moved to another country’s prison estate provided the facilities, regime and rehabilitation provided meets British standards.
‘This is an established approach which has been used by other European countries including Belgium and Norway who have moved prisoners to the Netherlands.’
Mr Chalk told the Tory party conference: ‘We intend to look at the Norwegian example of renting overseas capacity.
‘This government is doing more than any since the Victorian era to expand prison capacity.
‘Alongside our extra 20,000 prison places programme, refurbishment of old prisons and rapid deployment cells, renting prison places in other countries will ensure that we always have the space to keep the public safe from the most dangerous offenders.’
Belgium sent up to 650 prisoners to the Netherlands from 2010 until 2016, while Norway sent a similar number between 2015 and 2018, the Conservatives said.
A prison in Estonia – one of the countries reportedly being considered as a destination for UK prisoners
The chief executive of the Prison Reform Trust, Pia Sinha, described it as a ‘half-baked idea’ and called for criminals to be freed instead.
‘Prison leaders will be in despair at such a superficial response to their very real and urgent concerns.
‘The red warning light of a looming capacity crisis has been flashing on the prison service dashboard for a number of months. Ministers can’t say they haven’t been warned.
‘They urgently need to bring forward practical plans to reduce pressure on the system, including the executive release of some prisoners. The risks of not doing so are too perilous to ignore.’
The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment.
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