Justice Secretary Liz Truss is "partly right" when she warns that there is "no magic bullet" to reducing the prison population in England and Wales, the general secretary of the Prisons Officers' Association (POA) told IBTimes UK on Monday (13 February).
Steve Gillan made the admission just hours before Truss is expected to address the Centre for Social Justice think tank in central London. "Reductions by cap or quota, or by sweeping sentencing cuts are not a magic bullet," the senior Conservative will say.
"There's probably a little merit in what she's saying," Gillan said. "However, having said that, I think everybody recognises that there are far too many mentally ill people that aren't being diverted away from prisons.
"If the diversion programme worked properly and there was a properly funded NHS, then perhaps more people would be diverted away from prison in the first place and get the treatment that they deserve, rather than ending up in prison.
He added: "I think she's partly right, I don't think the general public would just stand for an executive release because prison numbers are too high. But by the same token there needs to be an absolute balance and a realism that you can't just keep locking people up."
The prison population in England and Wales is at a record level of 85,000, with a cross-party group of MPs, including former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and former Tory minister Ken Clarke, urging Truss to reduce number to around 45,000.
The justice secretary will reject such a move in her address on Monday afternoon. "This would be reckless and endanger the public," she will say. "And it would restrict the freedom of an independent judiciary to choose the most appropriate sentence for each offender."
Gillan's warnings about mental health provisions are shared by the Centre for Mental Health and the Howard League for Penal Reform. Suicides in English and Welsh prisons hit a record high of 119 in 2016, up 29 from the year before, according to Ministry of Justice figures.