The British government is seeking to rent cell space from foreign countries to combat overcrowding in its prisons Pentonville prison in London, UK © Getty Images / Ian Waldie

The UK’s Ministry of Justice is in talks with correctional facilities across Europe to rent out space to tackle chronic overcrowding in its prisons, according to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, who gave a speech on the subject at a Conservative Party conference.

As reported by The Times on Tuesday, the British government was inspired by how countries like Norway and Belgium had rented cells abroad in the past and is now looking to change the law to allow prisoners sentenced in England and Wales to serve their terms overseas.

Chalk stated that the UK is already in exploratory discussions with possible partners in Europe and that one of the first countries on the list of potential candidates is Estonia, which he had personally visited this summer.

“This government is doing more than any since the Victorian era to expand prison capacity,” Chalk told the conference. “Alongside our extra 20,000 prison places program, refurbishment of old prisons, and rapid deployment cells, renting prison places in other countries will ensure that we always have the space to keep the public safe from the most dangerous offenders.”

The Justice Ministry’s plan comes as the UK has been dealing with declining prison capacity. According to The Times, as of last week, only 768 available places were left in jails across England and Wales.

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Reacting to the proposal, representatives of the Labour Party and prison reform activists have stressed that the government’s move was a sign that the UK penitentiary system is failing and that the Conservative Party cannot find an alternative solution to the problem.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice activated emergency procedures to use 400 police cells to house convicts as prisons had run out of space. According to official data from late September, the UK currently houses 87,793 inmates. At the current imprisonment rate, that number is expected to rise to 94,400 by March 2025 and to 106,300 by 2027. Meanwhile, the total capacity of UK prisons today is listed at just 88,561.

Aside from overcrowding, conditions in British prisons have also been deemed so bad that a German court last month even refused to extradite an Albanian man to the UK, arguing that there were “valid grounds” to believe his fundamental rights would not be protected in the UK based on “the state of the British prison system.” (RT)