- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

LONDON British officials are shopping for ships to use as floating prisons as the country's convict population reaches record levels and keeps growing.
Britain has one prison ship in service, the HMS Wheare, a one-time troop carrier stationed at Portland, on England's southern coast.
Sources close to the government said officials want to lease at least three more vessels to house the overflow of hundreds of inmates.
"Overcrowding is not helping," said Martin Narey, head of the Prison Service in England and Wales, "because every prison is very, very full at the moment."
Official figures show the prison system has a record 70,926 inmates registered as of last month a figure that is expected to exceed 72,000 by the end of this month.
Some 5,000 prisoners have been added to the rolls since the start of the year, and another 511 were added last week a figure that has become about average in recent weeks.
The disclosure about added prison ships came in the wake of disturbances, blamed on overcrowded conditions, in at least three British prisons this week.
Officials from the Prison Service want each of the three prison ships to provide enough cells to house some 500 low-risk convicts as part of what was described as an "emergency package" to deal with the overcrowding. Where the vessels would be stationed was not disclosed immediately.
When it was turned into a floating prison in 1997, the HMS Wheare became Britain's first prison ship in 200 years. It is now home to some 400 convicts.
Mr. Narey described the crowding of the nation's prisons as "very disturbing," and said the Prison Service was "doing its very best to hang on."
He said that even the additional cells that the floating prisons will provide would not solve the problem. Also, judges and courts should "stop sending short-sentence people to prison when there are adequate community alternatives available," he said.
Meanwhile, prison officials said they also are investigating the possibility of using vacant or abandoned Ministry of Defense sites to help cope with the overflow.
In disturbances across the country in the past week, more than 80 cells were reported damaged when prisoners started fires, smashed windows and wrecked fixtures and fittings.
At Guys Marsh prison, 30 prisoners barricaded themselves and trashed cells during seven hours of disturbances in which a prison officer was injured. A standoff by convicts at Lindholme prison lasted eight hours.
Some 48 prisoners, angered when they were not allowed to watch a soccer match on television, went on a rampage for six hours at Ranby prison, and extra officers in riot gear had to be called in to subdue the uprising.

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