The prison population in England and Wales has reached a new record high for the third time in three weeks, passing the 88,000 level for the first time.
The total figure of 88,115 represents an increase of 170 on last week – and is 1,221 short of the usable operational capacity, Ministry of Justice figures have revealed.
The rise is being fuelled by the August riots, but the Government has insisted there will be enough prison places for anyone jailed over the looting and violence.
The usable operational capacity is 89,336, but this has increased from just 88,039 on August 5, the day after Mark Duggan, 29, was shot dead by police, prompting protests in Tottenham, north London, which then led to disturbances in cities across England.
It is the official total number of prisoners the jails in England and Wales can hold, taking into account control, security and the proper operation of the planned regime, less 2,000 places.
No places are currently activated under Operation Safeguard, which would see police cells used to hold prisoners, an MoJ spokeswoman said.
The riots will see prisons swell by as many as 1,000 extra inmates over the next year, according to figures released last month.
Juliet Lyon, director of campaign group the Prison Reform Trust, said: “This is crunch time for Government.
“Unless a check can be put on ever-lengthening sentences and the use of prison for people who are mentally ill, addicts and petty offenders, pouring more money down the ineffective prison drain is inevitable.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “We have seen a significant rise in the prison population since the summer, with very strong rises following the public disorder.
“We currently have enough prison places for those being remanded and sentenced to custody.
“Capacity will continue to increase throughout 2012 with the opening of two new prisons.
“We will continue to explore contingency arrangements should further pressure be placed on the prison estate.”