Winchester jail overcrowded as 629 inmates crammed into 458 spaces

Winchester Prison from the air
Winchester Prison from the air
Benjamin Peace

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OVERCROWDING at Winchester jail is forcing prisoners to share cells, eating, sleeping and even using the toilet in spaces designed for one.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 629 prisoners were crammed into just 458 spaces at the prison in March.

Campaigners say that the unchecked rise of the prison population is responsible for the huge increase in assaults on staff and other inmates – a situation described last week as a ‘national emergency’.

The Prison Service measures its capacity in terms of Certified Normal Accommodation – the number of prisoners it says it can accommodate in the ‘good, decent standard of accommodation that the service aspires to provide all prisoners’.

However, with the majority of prisons overcrowded across England and Wales, they also have a separate measure called Operational Capacity. It is the maximum number of prisoners the service says each institution can safely handle while maintaining control and security.

In March, Winchester’s population stood at 93 per cent of this capacity.

Prisons contain a number of one and two-person cells. In overcrowded prisons, more inmates will be put in cells than they were originally designed to hold.

Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson said: ‘Overcrowding isn’t simply a case of being forced to share a confined space for up to 23 hours a day where you must eat, sleep and go to the toilet. It directly undermines all the basics of a decent prison system, including work, safety and rehabilitation.

‘Despite a virtually permanent programme of prison building, overcrowding has been an unchanging reality of our prison system since 1994. Building prisons isn’t the solution – breaking our addiction to imprisonment is.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said prison numbers ‘can fluctuate’ and it has ‘robust plans’ in place to have enough places.