Until the latest surge in the number of people behind
bars, Portugal had the highest figure in the EU with 127 per 100,000.
Figures show the prison population in England and Wales has increased by 25,000 over
the last 10 years.
Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook said: "The fact that
we are the biggest jailer in Europe is ignominious and something the government should be
deeply ashamed of.
"It is something everyone should question in a time of enlightenment and
"To lock more and more people up is a mad policy because sending people to prison
simply creates more crime and more victims."
The Home Office forecasts the total prison population will grow to 68,400 by March
2003, which would top 129 per 100,000.
The Howard League is urging Home Secretary David Blunkett to adopt initiatives which
would lead to more community sentences rather than jail, which should cut offending rates.
Harry Fletcher of probation officers' union Napo said: "The remorseless rise in
prison figures is very, very worrying."
Scotland has 6,246 people in jail, which represents 122 per 100,000 of the population.
The average number of prisoners per capita in Europe is 88.
The lowest rates are Finland (52), Northern Ireland (60), Denmark (61) and Sweden (64).
The United States has the highest rate in the world (702) followed by Russia (465) and
South Africa (385).