The enormous growth of Britain’s prison population has been branded “crazy” by a former probation officer who spent 14 years working in Bradford.

Rob Voakes has retired as head of the Wakefield Probation Service after 35 years in probation work.

He said that since he started in 1976, England’s prison population had risen from 45,000 to an estimated 90,000 within the next couple of years.

Mr Voakes, who lives in Shipley and retired last month, blamed sentencing frameworks which meant that more offenders were handed down heavier sentences that would have attracted lighter penalties two decades ago.

“It costs £1,200 a week to put someone in prison and a fraction of that to have them in the community,” he said.

“We have the largest prison population in Europe and have a relatively law-abiding society but a massive prison population.

“I think probation has got better at doing its job, and is more effective in changing behaviour to deal with ex-offenders, but the prison population has doubled in my career which is crazy.

“It is a waste of human resources sticking people in prison and largely expensive and has a long term damaging impact on society.

“It makes people more alienated and more criminal.

“I hope there are some changes in the next couple of years.

“We should deal with non-violent less dangerous offenders in the community rather than putting them in prison.”

Mr Voakes did say that during his career Bradford led the way in creating joint working with Probation and the Police on how to deal with violent high risk offenders including those who commit rape and murders.

“That way of working is now the bread and butter of every Probation Service across the country,” he said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman admitted that managing the increase in the prison population was “challenging” but there were enough places for those being sent to custody.

“We have also been continually developing contingencies to manage the additional population, including the opening of two new prisons,” said the spokesman.

“But the Government is also clear that, while reoffending is falling and the overwhelming majority of criminals do not go on to commit further crimes, levels of reoffending are still too high. We're determined to break this cycle and address the root causes of this behaviour.

“That is why we making our jails places of hard work, getting criminals off drugs and alcohol and toughening community sentences so they are robust and credible punishments – as well as making offenders pay back to victims and communities.”