The row over sentencing rioters has morphed into a row about prison numbers and safety. Cathy Newman has been
issuing a steady stream of tweets all afternoon, revealing that the Ministry of Justice is concerned about overcrowding and safety in prisons and young offenders’ institutions: an internal memo discloses that 2 convicted rioters have been assaulted and hospitalised.
This is not altogether surprising: prisons are not exactly renowned for offering new inmates a genteel welcome. Still, it provides ammunition for those who oppose the courts’ stern
response to the riots. There is now a record 86,654 incarcerated people in Britain; compared to 85,253 people the week before. The Ministry of Justice insists that there is space for this
influx at present, but the Prison Service concedes that contingencies are being made to expand the prison estate. This includes both introducing
new buildings early and re-opening mothballed facilities.
It remains to be seen what impact this has on Ken Clarke’s controversial prison proposals, but there is a growing sense that they are unworkable, especially as Cameron has just told Test
"The Government’s responsibility is to provide the prison places necessary that the courts decree."
This also hints at why Clarke might come unstuck even if he were to enact his proposals: our fiercely independent judiciary may keep sending lags to the clink.