Prison population 2022: planning for the future Contents

2The prison population current and projected

The current prison population

46.Over the past 25 years, the prison population has grown significantly from 44,246 in 1993 to 82,384 as at December 2018.56 Having increased steadily during much of this period, it has been relatively stable since 2010 and has recently fallen, with a reduction of 2,312 places over the last 12 months.57 The availability of prison places to accommodate this population is assessed in terms of usable operational capacity. In December 2018, the population was 2,816 lower than capacity, an increase of 490 on the headroom there was 12 months previously, despite an overall reduction in the number of prison places available.58

47.Nevertheless, the current population is overcrowded as it is above the in-use certified normal accommodation threshold of 75,005, assessed by HM Prison and Probation Service as facilitating a good, decent standard of accommodation.59 Overcrowding is not evenly spread across the estate. In December 2018, 72 out of 118 prisons had populations that exceeded their in-use certified accommodation threshold. This includes prisons such as HMP Wandsworth, HMP Pentonville and HMP Leeds.

Figure 1: Prison population 2010–2017

Source: House of Commons Library, UK Prison Population Statistics, Number CBP-04334, 23 July 2018

Box 1: Prison population key terms

Usable Operational Capacity of the estate is the sum of all establishments’ operational capacity less 2000 places. This is known as the operating margin and reflects the constraints imposed by the need to provide separate accommodation for different classes of prisoner i.e. by sex, age, security category, conviction status, single cell risk assessment and also owing to geographical distribution.

The certified normal accommodation (CNA) threshold is the number of prisoners a prison can hold without being crowded. In-use CNA is the number of prisoners a prison can hold in in-use cells without being crowded. This is otherwise known as uncrowded capacity.

Source: Ministry of Justice, Population Bulletin: weekly 28 December 2018, January 2019

48.The Ministry of Justice published statistics detailing the make-up of the prison population at 31 March 2018:

a)The largest part of the population (88%) is made up of sentenced prisoners. Of those, 14% have indeterminate sentences.60 An indeterminate sentence is one which does not state a specific period of time or release date.

b)Those prisoners serving Indeterminate Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) account for 3% of the population.61 Prisoners serving life sentences made up 9% of the population.62

c)The remainder of the population comprises remand prisoners awaiting trial or sentence (12%) and non-criminal prisoners, such as those imprisoned for the non-payment of fines (1%).63,64

d)One in every four sentenced prisoners (26%) is in prison for an offence of ‘violence against the person’. Sex offenders make up 19% of the population, the highest level since 2002.65

e)Foreign national offenders (FNOs) represent 11% of the total prison population. The most common nationalities, after British Nationals, were Polish people, who made up 9% of the FNOs population, Albanian (8%) and Irish (8%).66 The number of foreign national prisoners has been falling.67

f)The vast majority of the population is male (95%).68

g)In terms of age profile, nearly a third of prisoners (30%) are aged between 30 and 39. Those aged between 60 and 69 made up 4% of the populations and 2% were over the age of 70. 1% of prisoners were aged between 15 and 17.69

h)The breakdown in the ethnicity of the overall population is 73% white and 27% Black, Asian or Minority Ethic (BAME).70 This has remained broadly consistent, as the split is the same as in 2012–13.71 However, in the youth custodial estate the proportion of BAME children is rising.72

Figure 2: Proportion of prisoners by sentence type

Source: House of Commons Library, UK Prison Population Statistics, Number CBP-04334, 23 July 2018

49.The number of children in the secure youth estate has fallen significantly from a monthly average of 2,932 in 2008 to 894 in 2018.73 Children aged between 15 and 17 made up 95% of the youth population, with those aged 17 accounting for 53% of the population.74 The proportion of children who are from an ethnic minority background increased from 26% in 2008 to 45% in 2018. In particular, as highlighted by Rt Hon David Lammy MP in his independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system, the percentage of black children as a proportion of all children in the secure estate rose from 14% in 2008 to 25% in 2018.75

50.Our witnesses drew attention to cohorts of the population that they considered warranted particular attention, including: older prisoners (over the age of 50); women; under 18s; BAME groups; people maintaining their innocence (denying that they had committed offences they had been convicted for); and, people serving indeterminate sentences for public protection. Each of these groups has needs that are complex and challenging in nature, requiring specific action by the Ministry of Justice.76

The complex and challenging nature of the prison population

51.Our witnesses have highlighted various ways in which prisoners’ needs may be complex and challenging, enabling us to piece together a picture of the characteristics from a range of surveys and other data sources. This ranges from prisoners facing multiple, overlapping vulnerabilities including mental ill health, trauma and substance misuse to those exhibiting challenging behaviours including personality disorders.77 The prevalence of many of these characteristics in the existing or projected prison population is not routinely monitored or published in a transparent manner, either for each prison, or for the population as a whole.

  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists noted that there are significantly higher rates of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, autistic spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, personality disorder and dependence on and harmful use of drugs and alcohol in prisons than in the rest of the population.78
  • Prisoners have often had prior experiences of disadvantage, abuse and violence. A 2012 Ministry of Justice report on prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds noted that 53% of women and 27% of men reported experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.79 46% of women prisoners are known to be victims of domestic violence and 53% have histories of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.80
  • People in prison have typically experienced a higher frequency of bereavement and are more likely to have experienced bereavement from traumatic deaths, such as murder or suicide.81 Moreover, 46% of women and 27% of men have attempted suicide at some point in their lives before custody, compared with just 6% of the general population.82
  • Substance misuse and addiction can be a cause or contributing factor to an individual being sent to prison, with one survey estimating that 70% of offenders have reported misusing drugs before entering prison according to the British Medical Association.83 The Inspectorate of Prisons find that 42% of women and 28% of men report a drug problem on arrival.84
  • In the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction survey, 63% of prisoners had been suspended or temporarily excluded from school, and 42% had been permanently excluded or expelled.
  • The Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefing cited the following statistics:
    • 42% of prisoners (32% for women and 43% for men) had been expelled permanently from school.
    • A survey of prisoners sentenced in 2005/06 found that only 53% had any qualifications at all, compared with 85% of the general population.
    • 20–30% of people in prison have learning disabilities or difficulties that interfere with their ability to cope with the criminal justice system.
    • 25% of women and 15% of men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis.
    • 36% of prisoners are estimated to have a physical or mental disability.85
    • Headway, the brain injury association, estimated that up to 60% of the prison population have a history of acquired brain injuries.86
    • The former Prison and Probation Ombudsman highlighted to us how prisoners differ from the general population in the prevalence of mental health issues:

Source: Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (ppp031)

52.The prison population has become increasingly challenging in nature, with prisoners often having complex health and social needs. Many have learning disabilities or mental health conditions, such as psychosis, that make it difficult to cope with the criminal justice system and places an addition burden on the prison service to manage their needs. The Ministry needs acknowledge the challenge it faces and demonstrate that it has a long-term strategy to deal with these.

Overrepresentation of BAME individuals

53.One, as yet, unexplained challenge is the overrepresentation of BAME people in prisons proportionate to the general population documented in successive reviews.87 Most recently, Rt Hon David Lammy MP’s review into the treatment of and outcomes for black and minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system has highlighted the significant effect of disproportionality in prisons. Mr Lammy adopted an inclusive definition of BAME, which included gypsy, Roma and traveller populations. Across the whole system, 25% of prisoners are BAME, despite making up only 14% of the population. Disproportionality is particularly pronounced in the youth justice system; Mr Lammy anticipated this would get worse before it got better. In the year since his review the proportion of under 18s in youth custody who are BAME has increased by 1% to 45%; up from 25% ten years ago.88 Youth convictions often impact the future life chances of those young people. The Lammy Review cited that in the five years to 2017, 22,000 BAME children had their names added to the Police National Database, including for minor offences such as police reprimands.89 The proportion of Muslims in prison has almost doubled in a decade.90

Violent and sexual offenders

54.One contributor to a more challenging population is the greater proportion of prisoners who have committed high-harm crimes i.e. violent and sexual offences.91 This has increased from 40% of the population to 60% over the last seven years.92 Within prisons, we heard evidence that prisoners are more likely to be violent than they were in the past. The trade unions representing operational staff in public and private sector prisons—Prison Officers Association and Community—and the Chief Executive of HMPPS all agreed that contemporary prisoners had a greater propensity to violence and lack of respect for authority than had historically been the case.93 Mark Fairhurst said that disruptive prisoners constituted approximately 5% of the population.94 He explained how the population had changed over the course of his career as a prison officer:

There are [now] very few old-school prisoners, as I call them, who are career criminals. Most of them are big gangsters. They show staff the utmost respect. They just want to keep their heads down and get on with their sentence. What you have now is a society issue. You are getting feral young kids who have no respect for authority, have no respect for themselves and have bullied their way through life. They have no language other than violence and they do not like the word no.95

55.In July 2018 the Ministry announced that it was launching a new digital tool to enable prisons to build a more detailed picture of the types of risk each offender may pose, including violence, escape or becoming involved in organised crime. The new system draws on law enforcement databases, rather than just offence type and sentence length, and will allow prison staff to use intelligence to take action to prevent and disable criminal networks.96

Figure 3: Prisoners convicted of violent or sexual offences as a percentage of the overall population

Source: Ministry of Justice, Offender Management Statistics, October 201897

Prison population projections to 2022 and beyond

56.The Ministry of Justice publishes prison population projections on an annual basis. In 2017, when we commenced our inquiry, prison population projections that were then available up to 2022 predicted that the population would stay stable until June 2019 before increasing to 88,000 in March 2022.98 Although in their latest projections the Ministry continues to predict a steady increase, it has revised the figure down, estimating that by June 2022 the prison population will be approximately 85,800, with a maximum of 90,900, and minimum of 80,800.99

57.Alongside growth in the size of the prison population, the projections anticipate some changes in the types of offenders. The populations of over 60 and over 70-year olds in prison are projected to increase, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the total prison population.100 The number of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences is expected to continue to fall from 9,862 in June 2018 to 8,100 in June 2022. This follows the abolition of Indeterminate Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) in 2012. The number of prisoners serving custodial sentences of four years or more is expected to rise.101 The Ministry explained to us in its written evidence that the prison population projections are underpinned by analytical models relating to the criminal courts and offender management that project demand. They include an analysis of the factors driving the changes to the prison population, including: the nature of offences entering the courts; the nature and length of sentences, including the volume of indeterminate prison population including IPPs, Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) and parole hearings.102

58.As with any forecast, there is a degree of uncertainty in the projections. The Minister, Rory Stewart, told us:

If you ask us to be confident on whether our figures are going to get up to 93,000 or 89,000 by 2022, it is very difficult to do. That is, I am afraid, asking our statisticians to do stuff they are not very good at doing. It is no accident that this red thing on my graph expands like a trumpet, because the further out you go in time, the more uncertain projections become.103

The Ministry of Justice explained that “future changes in policy or the behaviour of the police or sentencers, for example, may be unclear or unexpected at the time of the projection, as well as uncertainty in the level of demand expected to come through the courts.”104 The projections do not factor in the Government’s new position on short prison sentences, for example. The Ministry has shifted its prison capacity planning to accommodate the worst-case scenario of projections, rather than the median estimate as had hitherto been the case.105

Figure 4: Uncertainty in the prison population projections

Source: Ministry of Justice, Prison Population Projections 2018 to 2023, England and Wales, August 2018.

59.We were told by the Ministry that the projections “include forecasts of the make-up of the population where they drive demand or are required for the effective management of the prison population”. It therefore has projections for sentence length, age group and gender.106 Nevertheless, the projections do not presently take into account social or economic factors that affect both levels of crime and reoffending, despite the Minister accepting that the projections can be driven by social behaviour. For example, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies noted that countries with higher income inequality tend to have higher prison populations.107 The Criminal Justice Alliance was concerned that projections do not account for trends in certain key cohorts which are disproportionately overrepresented, such as BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people.108 When we asked the Prisons Minister for his assessment of the factors which create demands on prisons and probation which are outside the control of the Ministry he did not include social factors, but referred to crime rates and reporting levels; changes in crime trends and severity; and police resourcing and charging practice.

60.The prison population is projected to grow for the foreseeable future. Prison population projections are limited in their focus on criminal justice system specific factors and the likely age and gender of prisoners. We consider that the projections should not be produced solely for the purposes of understanding the absolute numbers of prison places required, and of what nature, but also to ensure that governors and other commissioners are able to provide facilities and interventions that enables them to manage the prison population safety and effectively, with the ultimate outcome of preventing further crime when those imprisoned re-enter society. The existing approach limits the scope for thinking more laterally about how best to accommodate the challenging and complex needs of those remanded in custody and sentenced to imprisonment as part of a longer-term strategy. The more challenging mix of those sentenced to custody is likely to be partly attributable to the impact of wider social policies which do not currently factor into the Ministry’s planning.

61.Trends in ethnicity and the social drivers of complex and challenging behaviour should be more explicitly identified in modelling of the future prison population to inform a more comprehensive planning strategy which is properly resourced to manage effectively people in custody. Understanding the reasons for ethnic and racial disproportionality and seeking to reduce it must form part of a longer-term strategy for ensuring the sustainability of the prison population. The Ministry must monitor and take seriously the trend of racial and ethnic disparity in the prison population. We intend to carry out further work in this area.

Implications of projections for resources

62.Rory Stewart, Minister of State for Justice, wrote to us on 21 August 2018 setting out that funding for prisons had fallen in real terms from £2.61 billion in 2010–11 to £2.14 billion in 2017–18, a fall of £466 million.109 The Institute for Government has assessed that, between 2009–10 and 2017–18, spending on prisons in real terms has fallen by 16%.110 As the prison population has been broadly stable since 2012, the direct cost per prisoner has fallen in nominal terms from £26,801 in 2010–11 to £24,151 in 2017–18. This rose slightly in the last year: the equivalent figure for 2016–17 was £22,933.111

Figure 5: Cost per prisoner between 2010–11 and 2017–18

Source: Ministry of Justice, Prison performance statistics, various years. Figures use the direct cost per prisoner for each year.

63.The Prison Reform Trust commissioned Julian Le Vay, a former finance director of the prisons service, to analyse the Ministry’s prison reform programme. He found “that the Ministry’s current ambitions are inadequately funded to the tune of £162m in 2018–19, rising to £463m in 2022–23.”112 We have not verified this, and when we put the figure to Mr Driver he said he was “comfortable” with the funding allocated to HMPPS, and this had been accepted by the chief executive.113

64.Nevertheless, there is clearly a funding gap. To manage this in the short-term, the Ministry agreed with HM Treasury that capital funding not utilised for building new prisons could be used to fund current spending. £235 million was switched in this way in 2017–18; a further £150 million has been switched in 2018–19.114 Mr Driver admitted that the Ministry “certainly should not be using investment funding to prop up running costs on an ongoing basis.”115 The Prisons Minister acknowledged that in future there was a need for “a much more realistic baseline that reflects our genuine populations.”116 As an illustration of the present size of the spending gap, Mr Driver explained that, without securing additional funding from the Treasury, it would be necessary to reduce the prison population by “something like 20,000”, facilitating the closure of prisons and a restructured workforce.117 He added that “The thing is that we are not working in an environment that would necessarily allow those very broad assumptions to be deliverable.”118 We consider below the implications of this for the Ministry’s strategic approach. The Justice Secretary’s recently stated aim of moving away from short sentences is relevant, but cannot alone address this difficulty.

65.To close the large gap between the money allocated to prisons by the Treasury and the current costs of running and maintaining them, the Ministry of Justice has estimated that it would have to reduce the prison population by 20,000 places. By the Ministry’s own admission this is not achievable under existing strategies and funding arrangements.

57 Ministry of Justice, Population bulletin: weekly 29 December 2017, January 2018

58 Ministry of Justice, Population bulletin: weekly 29 December 2017, January 2018; Ministry of Justice, Population Bulletin: weekly 28 December 2018, January 2019. Overall usable operational capacity has fallen from 87,072 to 85,200.

59 Ministry of Justice, Population Bulletin: monthly December 2018, January 2019

60 Ministry of Justice, Offender management statistics quarterly: April to June 2018, October 2018, page 3–4

61 Ministry of Justice, Offender management statistics quarterly: April to June 2018, October 2018, page 3–4

62 IPPs were “designed to ensure that dangerous violent and sexual offenders stayed in custody for as long as they presented a risk to society. Under the system, a person who had committed a specified violent or sexual offence would be given an IPP if the offence was not so serious as to merit a life sentence. Once they had served their “tariff” they would have to satisfy the Parole Board that they no longer posed a risk before they could be released.” IPPs were abolished in 2012, but a number of prisoners serving IPP sentences remain in prison. (House of Commons Library, Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection, Number 06086, 25 October 2017).

63 Ministry of Justice, Offender management statistics quarterly: April to June 2018, October 2018, page 3

65 Ministry of Justice, Offender management statistics quarterly: April to June 2018, October 2018, page 4

66 Ministry of Justice, Offender management statistics quarterly: April to June 2018, October 2018, page 4

67 Prison Reform Trust (ppp0023)

71 National Offender Management Service, NOMS Offender Equalities Annual Report 2012–2013, November 2013

72 Youth Justice Board, Youth Justice statistics: 2017 to 2018, page 41, 31 January 2019

73 Youth Justice Board, Youth Justice statistics: 2017 to 2018, supplementary table 7.3, 31 January 2019

74 Youth Justice Board, Youth Justice statistics: 2017 to 2018, page 40, 31 January 2019

75 Youth Justice Board, Youth Justice statistics: 2017 to 2018, page 40, 31 January 2019

76 See for example Professor Hardwick (PPP0056), Agenda (PPP0064), Transition to Adulthood (T2A) Alliance (PPP0003), Centre for Criminal Appeals (PPP0021), Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) (PPP0059), Henry Jackson Society (PPP0072)

77 See for example Women in Prison (ppp0022); Agenda (ppp0006); Clinks (ppp0005); Royal College of Psychiatrists (ppp0013); Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (ppp0031); Q187 [Richard Garside]

78 Royal College of Psychiatrists (ppp0013); Headway - the brain injury association (ppp0020); Waymarks (ppp0037)

79 The Howard League for Penal Reform (ppp0025); Ministry of Justice, Prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds, March 2012, page 9

80 Agenda (ppp0006). See also Fair Play For Women (ppp0011)

83 British Medical Association (BMA) (ppp0024)

84 HM Inspectorate of Prisons (ppp0036)

85 Prison Reform Trust, Prison Reform Trust, Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, 2018; Clinks (ppp0005)

86 Headway (PPP0020)

87 These include the 2014 Young Review into improving outcomes for young black and Muslim men and a 2008 Race Review which followed the racist murder of Zahid Mubarek by his cellmate in 2000.

88 Youth Justice Board, Youth Justice statistics: 2017 to 2018, page 40, 31 January 2019

89 David Lammy, The Lammy Review, September 2017, page 5

90 The Henry Jackson Society (ppp0072)

91 Crest Advisory (ppp0039); Q302 [Professor Hardwick]

92 Q5

93 Community (ppp0069); Q664

95 Q210; See also Community (ppp0069)

97 Figures for all years are taken as at June of that particular year

98 Ministry of Justice, Prison Population Projections 2017 to 2022, England and Wales, August 2017, page 4

99 Ministry of Justice, Prison Population Projections 2018 to 2023, England and Wales, August 2018, page 5

100 Ministry of Justice, Prison Population Projections 2018 to 2023, England and Wales, August 2018, page 1

101 Ministry of Justice, Prison Population Projections 2018 to 2023, England and Wales, August 2018, page 1

102 Ministry of Justice, PPP0008, para 14

104 Ministry of Justice, PPP0008, para 9.

106 Ministry of Justice, PPP0008, para 10

107 Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (ppp0016)

108 Criminal Justice Alliance (ppp0018)

110 Institute for Government, Prisons Performance Tracker, 2018

112 Prison Reform Trust (PPP0023), para 14

117 Q56 [Mike Driver]

118 Q56 [Mike Driver]

Published: 3 April 2019