Senior judge calls for 'tough community penalties' to tackle prison population

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More criminals could be punished without being jailed, a senior judge has suggested.

The Lord Chief Justice warned the prison population is "very, very high" and there are concerns that it could rise further still.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd told MPs more could be done to explore non-custodial options for some offenders.

His comments come as prisons in England and Wales endure a hugely turbulent period.

Earlier this month thousands of officers stopped work amid claims the system was "in meltdown" following a rise in violence and self-harm behind bars.

Campaigners have repeatedly warned about overcrowding - while last week, former justice secretary Michael Gove warned that too many people are being sent to prison.

Mr Gove said the Government should be working "overtime" to reduce the size of the jail population, which stands at just over 85,000.

Appearing at the Commons Justice Committee, Lord Thomas said there is an "awful lot we can do to avoid sending certain people to prison".

He said: "I think there's a lot more we should be doing to explore non-custodial options. 

"The prison population is very, very high at the moment. Whether it will continue to rise is always difficult to tell but there are worries that it will.

"I'm not sure that at the end of the day we can't dispose of more by really tough, and I do mean tough, community penalties."