prisoners overcrowding in jails
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UK Government Enacts Emergency Measures to Address Prison Overcrowding

The British government has triggered emergency measures to release some criminals from prisons early and delay certain court hearings in an effort to prevent overcrowding in jails. This action comes as the prison population in England and Wales has doubled over the past 30 years due to longer criminal sentences and a tougher stance on violent and drug-related crimes.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak clarified that the early release would only apply to prisoners nearing the end of their sentences. These individuals would be under strict supervision, including electronic tagging. “Prisoners convicted of terrorism, s*xual, or serious violent crimes would be excluded, and prison governors would have the power to block some individuals from being released,” the spokesperson added, told by Reuters.

The government is implementing this early release strategy to alleviate “short-term pressure on the prison estate,” emphasizing that it is a temporary scheme. The Ministry of Justice also announced a separate measure on Wednesday, allowing detained defendants who were denied bail to be returned to police custody if there was no space available in prisons.

“We have initiated a previously used measure to securely transfer prisoners between courts and custody and ensure there is always a custody cell available should they be remanded,” the ministry stated. This measure was last used in March for about a week.

In response to these measures, opposition Labour Leader Keir Starmer accused Prime Minister Sunak in parliament of issuing “get out of jail free cards” to criminals. He questioned whether individuals convicted of domestic abuse were being released early, highlighting concerns over public safety.

The prison population of England and Wales reached a record high of 88,225 last summer, up eight percent from the previous year, leaving a usable capacity of only 557 places. Official figures indicate that three out of every five prisons were overcrowded, meaning they housed more inmates than could be provided with a decent standard of accommodation.

Sam Townend, chair of the Bar Council, which represents lawyers, expressed grave concerns about the current situation. “We cannot continue like this,” he said. “The government must now show that it takes criminal justice seriously by investing in prisons, courts, and the entire system.”

The government’s emergency measures underscore the urgent need for a comprehensive solution to the overcrowding crisis. As the prison system faces increasing strain, the debate over how best to address these challenges continues to intensify, with calls for significant investment and reform in the criminal justice system.

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