England's prison population jumps after riots

August 19, 2011 - 1:55 PM
Britain Riots

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge talks to local people as they visit Summerfield Community Center, Birmingham, England Friday Aug. 19, 2011 which was a very badly affected by unrest that swept London and other major cities last week. Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited a community center in the English city of Birmingham, where three men were killed in a hit-and-run during last week's violence. The couple spent 15 minutes speaking with families of the victims and greeted emergency workers and locals at the city's Summerfield Community Center. (AP Photo/Geoff Pugh, Pool)

LONDON (AP) — England's prison population has hit a record high following the jailing of hundreds of people involved in the country's recent riots, according to figures released Friday. Prison officials said they were working hard to contain the flow of convicts.

Statistics released by the country's Ministry of Justice showed that the total prison population in England and Wales has reached 86,654 — just 1,500 places below the countries' operational capacity.

Prison authorities said they faced an "unprecedented situation" and were working on emergency plans to boost capacity "should further pressure be placed on the prison estate."

The figures show that a net of 700 people have been added to the country's prison system over the last seven days, many of them people found guilty over their roles in the four nights of unrest that swept London and other major cities last week.

According to Britain's justice ministry, 1,300 people had appeared before British courts over the riots by Wednesday and around two-thirds had been jailed.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he believes judges have been correct to impose tough sentences.

Among the most criticized sentences, are four-year jail terms given to two men for attempting to incite rioting by posting messages on Facebook.

In another case, a woman who took no part in the riots received a five-month jail term for wearing a pair of looted shorts her housemate had brought home.

She had her sentence overturned Friday by a judge who said the penalty given to Ursula Nevin had been "wrong in principle." Judge Andrew Gilbart freed Nevin and ordered her to perform 75 hours of community service.

Activists and high-profile attorneys have criticized the harsh punishments and expect more successful appeals.

Criminal lawyer John Cooper warned that judges and magistrates had a duty "not to be influenced by angry Britain," describing some of the sentences handed down already as "disproportionate and somewhat hysterical."

Meanwhile, Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited a community center in the English city of Birmingham, where three men were killed in a hit-and-run during last week's violence.

The couple spent 15 minutes speaking with families of the victims and greeted emergency workers and local residents at the city's Summerfield Community Center.