[JURIST] British Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened Friday in a renewed furor over criminal sentencing [JURIST report] that broke out after a judge cited the Home Secretary's recent urgings [JURIST report] to keep non-dangerous offenders out of overcrowded prisons [BBC backgrounder; Guardian Q&A] in suspending the sentence of a man who pleaded guilty to downloading child pornography. The suspended sentence issued Thursday prompted an immediate rush of criticism directed at the Home Office by opposition critics and advocacy groups such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) [press release] and the Victims of Crime Trust [advocacy website].
A communication [HO press release] issued Wednesday by the Home Office encouraged UK judges to limit imposition of prison sentences to only the most serious criminals in order to help the government deal with prison overcrowding. On Friday, however, Blair insisted that judges have not been instructed to stop issuing jail sentences. He said in a statement [text] that "If any judge feels anyone is a danger or a threat to the public and feels that they should be in custody then they should be put in custody. If someone is a danger to the public the place for them is behind bars." An estimated 79,375 prisoners occupy facilities in England and Wales that are equipped to handle some 80,000 [JURIST report], prompting the government to explore such options as converting ships [JURIST report] and a Royal Air Force base into prisons. Observers even been suggested that some inmates be moved to available facilities in other EU countries. Currently, hundreds of British prisoners are housed in police stations and court cells. The Guardian has more.