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Region's prisons overcrowded and close to capacity

By Jack Averty | Staffordshire | News | Published:

Prisons across the region are overcrowded, new figures have revealed.

Only two jails across the whole of the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Shropshire are classed as being of an acceptable level of population.

Some are close to their full operational capacity as prisoners are forced to stay in cells that not even the Prison Service deems to be of a good enough standard. In some cases prisoners could be forced to share cells, the service has warned.

Certified normal accommodation (CNA), also known as uncrowded accommodation, is the prison service's measure of 'good, standard accommodation'.

HMP Oakwood, the G4S-run prison which is the biggest in the country, is the most overcrowded in the region with 479 prisoners more than its CNA.

How the figures break down:

The prison has an in-use CNA of 1,600 and a total capacity of 2,106, with 2,079 prisoners currently at the jail.

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John McLaughlin, the director at HMP Oakwood, said: “We take the well-being of all the people in our care very seriously. Following the most recent inspection, the Chief Inspector said Oakwood is an 'impressive establishment' and praised the living conditions as 'very good, in some cases excellent', saying that they contributed greatly to a positive sense of community in the prison.”

Stoke Heath prison

HMP Stafford, the sex offenders jail that famously housed Rolf Harris, is just five prisoners away from hitting its absolute maximum capacity, with the latest figures for December showing 746 inmates were at the jail, which has an operational capacity of 751.

Another overcrowded prison is HMP Stoke Heath in Market Drayton, which is currently housing 755 prisoners despite a CNA of 662. Its maximum capacity is 782.

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HMP Birmingham, a jail which was deemed to be being so poorly-run by private security firm G4S it was taken over by the Ministry of Justice, has 150 prisoners being forced to stay in unsuitable accommodation. The prison, which was the scene of riots at the end of 2017, has 948 prisoners with an in-use CNA of 798. Its normal CNA is just below 1,100 but this was reduced in the wake of the riots.

HMP Birmingham

John Spellar, the Labour MP for Warley, has blamed the problems at HMP Birmingham for causing overcrowding at other prisons in the region.

He said: "I wonder if a lot of this is overcrowding in the region is down to the fall-out from HMP Birmingham.

"Undoubtedly some of the pressure on prisons in the West Midlands is arising from the gross mismanagement of the former Winson Green jail by the contractor. They need to get back the prison back up and running to full capacity."

Other overcrowded prisons across the region include young offenders institute Brinsford, in Featherstone, which has a population of 542 and a CNA of 539; and Swinfen Hall in Lichfield, where a CNA of 574 is eclipsed by a prison population of 575.

Peter Dawson, the director of the Prison Reform Trust charity, said: "These figures show that overcrowded conditions remain the reality for many people in prison in the West Midlands. It matters because it means that people are often held in conditions which do more harm than good.

Rethink

"High levels of violence, self-harm, and being crammed in an overcrowded cell for up to 23 hours a day is a recipe for failure. History has shown that more prisons are not the solution, a fundamental rethink of who goes to prison, and for how long is.

"Ministers are right to highlight the ineffectiveness of short prison sentences—but they must now take urgent action to turn that wish into reality. The time has come for a presumption against short sentences and a statutory ban on overcrowding.”

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, added: “Cramming more people into prisons than they were designed to hold is a recipe for squalor, violence, drug abuse and mental distress – and, ultimately, more crime.

“Scrapping prison sentences of less than six months, as has been proposed by ministers, would better protect the public because evidence shows that short bursts of imprisonment lead to more offending and more victims.

“Sensible legislation that reduces the number of people behind bars will save lives, protect prison staff and help to make local communities safer.”

Capacity

The only two jails which are not overcrowded according to December's figures are HMP Featherstone and HMP Drake Hall.

Featherstone has an in-use CNA of 621 but currently houses just 606 prisoners, while the closed women-only jail Drake Hall, in Eccleshall, Staffordshire, has a population of 334, six under its CNA and capacity of 340.

The Prison Service has maintained that all of its prisons in the region are safe, as none are over their operational capacity.

A spokeswoman said: “All prisons in England and Wales are within their operational capacity which means they are safe for inmates and we will always ensure there are enough cells across the prison estate.

“Nonetheless, reducing crowding is a central aim of our modernisation of the prison estate. That is why we have committed to delivering up to 10,000 new prison places across the country and have already announced the building of two new prisons at Wellingborough and Glen Parva in Leicestershire.”

The Prison Officers Association has said the 10,000 new places will not be enough.

Jack Averty

By Jack Averty
Senior Reporter - @javerty_star

Reporter with the Express & Star, based at head office in Wolverhampton

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