[JURIST] British Home Secretary John Reid [official profile] Monday outlined steps to combat the increasingly urgent problem of prison overcrowding [BBC backgrounder; Guardian Q&A]. Over the weekend, the prison population of England and Wales [JURIST news archive] reached a record of 79,843, theoretically leaving space available for only 125 more prisoners. In a speech to Parliament [BBC recorded video], Reid announced the implementation of Operation Safeguard, which will make space for as many as 500 prisoners in police holding cells - a solution that Reid called "tried and tested," though "not ideal." Reid also unveiled a year-long pilot program that would encourage foreign prisoners to serve their time outside the European Economic Area (EEA) [country list] by offering them £500 to £2,500 (roughly US $1,000-$5,000) in in-kind "reintegration support," such as education, medical care and job training. British prisons now house about 8,000 inmates from outside the EEA, at an average cost of £28,000 a year.
In response to Reid's plan, the crime-reduction charity Nacro [advocacy website] suggested advising judges to avoid sending less serious offenders to prison. Over the weekend, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales expressed doubts about whether prison rehabilitates nonviolent offenders [JURIST report]. The Guardian has more. BBC News has additional coverage.