Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has quietly sanctioned emergency measures, after it emerged that there were only 265 free spaces left out of an 85,800 capacity across England and Wales prison estate.
This is the most crowded that prisons have been since the coalition took power nearly four years ago, The Independent reported.
To avert the crisis, privately-run prisons will be paid to cram more inmates into their cells.
The managers of these 14 private sector prisons include Serco and G4S, the companies at the centre of a scandal last summer, when the Ministry of Justice was billed for the monitoring of non-existent electronic tags.
Grayling was accused by prison experts Saturday night of being “irresponsible”, amid warnings that crowded prison conditions could lead to riots and hinder rehabilitation.
The Labour Party claimed that Grayling’s future could be “short-lived”: in 14 of the past 22 weeks, including the past seven consecutive weeks, prisons have come within 1 percent of capacity.
The Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, said: “Chris Grayling is clearly too embarrassed to admit prisons are in the danger zone.
“He is clearly clueless and working on the basis that he won’t be around to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.
“Given all his reassurances that there’s ample room to lock up criminals, if he runs out of space then it has to mean his future as Justice Secretary being short-lived. Grayling is presiding over a prison system as close to the brink as it has been in recent times.”
Jeremy Wright, the prisons minister, however, said: “We have enough space within our prisons to accommodate all offenders without relying on police or court cells and will not be in a position where we can’t imprison those sentenced by the courts.
“By 2015, the Government will have increased adult male prison accommodation so that we have more places than we inherited from the previous government.” — IANS