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"Prison population hits new record" by Alan Travis, The Guardian

30th June 2006

The prison population in England and Wales hit a record high yesterday of 77,865, giving ministers little hope of implementing the Mubarek inquiry's key recommendation that the enforced sharing of single cells should come to an end.

About 41% of prisoners currently have to share a cell built for single occupancy - known as "doubling up" - and, even taking account of the 10% of inmates who prefer to share, it would still cost more than £2bn to implement Mr Justice Keith's recommendation.

The home secretary, John Reid, did however say he would be accepting, in principle at least, 50 of the 88 recommendations put forward by the inquiry.

They include official recognition of the concept of "institutional religious intolerance" - similar to the "institutional racism" adopted by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry into the police.

The home secretary said Mr Justice Keith's inquiry was the "most thorough examination" of the investigations that have been carried out into Zahid Mubarek's death and said it added much to the background knowledge of the murder.

He welcomed the report's recognition that much progress has been made by the Prison Service in the last six years to address the problems that may have contributed to Zahid Mubarek's murder.

"I am particularly pleased to note that the report finds that the allegations that prison officers maliciously placed ethnic minority prisoners in cells with known racists are not substantiated."

He said the inquiry's recommendations would be considered "urgently and carefully" and a full response would follow within two months. At this stage changes in prison practice will not apply to privately run prisons, but only to those in the public sector.

The record prison population leaves the Prison Service only 1,600 places short of capacity. Jail numbers have risen by 154 in the last week alone and the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, has predicted prisons will "hit the buffers" by September.

Phil Wheatley, the director general of the Prison Service, said he was continuing to investigate the options for providing further increases in capacity in addition to the 900 extra places already planned for next year. Two women's prisons have already been switched to male-only jails to cope with the numbers.

(c) The Guardian 

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