Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke has called for a 'pause' in prison population growth as the numbers creep closer to the UK's operational capacity.
At a hearing of the Commons Justice Committee last week Clarke described overcrowding in UK prisons as 'one of the scourges of our system. It would be really helpful if we could have a bit of a pause in order to address what we can do with the people we have got'.
Clarke said the government should resist popular press calls for tougher sentences, which he said were responsible for 'thousands of people' being in prison who need not be there.
Ministry of Justice figures released last week showed that more than 90% of those sentenced in 2011 had previously offended. Around a third of defendants convicted in the Crown court had 15 or more previous convictions or cautions - the highest level recorded since 2001.