MoJ apologises for ‘misleading’ parliament over prison crowding – Wandsworth HMP already branded ‘in crisis’

A Minister of Justice spokesman apologised today for ‘unacceptable’ misleading figures under-representing the extent of overcrowding in prisons, months after a leading prison charity  issued stark warnings about the ‘caged squalor’ in Wandsworth Prison.

As SWL reported in March, ‘doubling’ is most common in Wandsworth, already one of the most overcrowded prisons in the UK, where men were made to share cells designed for one.

The statement from the Ministry of Justice began with an apology to the House for providing inaccurate and misleading figures to Parliament as far back as 2008/2009.

A statement released today from Andre Selous, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, minister for prisons, probation and rehabilitation, said: I wish to apologise to the House on behalf of the Ministry of Justice following the provision of misleading information to members.”

Information about how the doubling of prisoners wasn’t accurate from several unnamed prisons.

Only the extra prisoner was counted as someone affected by crowding, rather than the two men forced to share the cell designed for one.

The figures released early this year and since revised by the MoJ, suggested that almost 19,000 prisoners were doubled-up on a typical day last year, and around 800 were trebled-up.

Wandsworth prison has been repeatedly criticised for its living conditions and in 2012 it was branded the ‘least safe prison in the country’ by chief prison inspector Nick Hardwick.

Overcrowding is linked to more dangerous environments for prisoners, and increased suicides rates. Wandsworth also has the highest suicide rate in the country.

Although data regarding individual prisons hasn’t been released, figures show that rates of doubling nationally were at 24.5% in the last year, rather than the previously reported 21.9%.

The MoJ statement said: The public should rightly expect this information to be accurate. Publication of clear, reliable figures on how many prisoners we hold in crowded conditions is an important part of making sure we can be held to account.

“It is therefore unacceptable that these incorrect figures have been published over the last six years and that these errors were not identified sooner.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a timely written statement, and we welcome the new culture of honesty and accountability at the Ministry of Justice.

“Simple logic dictates that if two or three prisoners are sharing a cell designed for one, then all those people are being held in overcrowded conditions.

“We are pleased that the government’s figures will now reflect this, as the Howard League has made this point repeatedly for many years.

“Holding men in overcrowded cells with nothing to do all day is never going to help them become law-abiding citizens on release, and it is important that the true scale of overcrowding will be made known.

“Only by knowing what the problem is can we work together to find a solution.”

Revised figures in full:

Percentage of Prisoners in Crowded or Doubled Conditions


  Crowding   Doubling
Financial Year Crowding figures (including revisions)   Previously published figures   Doubling figures (including revisions)   Previously published figures
2008/09 25.3% r 24.7% 24.2% r 23.1%
2009/10 24.6% r 24.1% 23.6% r 22.7%
2010/11 24.2% r 23.8% 23.3% r 22.7%
2011/12 25.1% r 24.1% 24.1% r 23.3%
2012/13 23.9% r 23.3% 23.0% r 22.2%
2013/14 24.1% r 22.9% 24.5% r 21.9%
2014/15 25.5% 24.5%

r – revised figure

Picture courtesy of Thomas Hawk, with thanks

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