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Prison Population 2022: planning for the future - Report Overview

Author: Justice Committee

Date Published: 03 April 2019

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Contents


Video: Committee Chair summarises report findings


The Ministry’s current approach to managing the prison population and its financial sustainability

Over the past 25 years, the prison population has grown significantly from 44,246 in 1993 to 82,384 as at December 2018. Capacity has not kept pace with demand and many prisons are now deemed to be overcrowded. Whilst the number of people in prison has remained roughly stable since 2012, the amount spent on prisons has fallen in recent years. The Ministry of Justice currently has a gap in its finances across 2018–19 and 2019–20 which equates to £1.2 billion. We heard that this equates to a reduction in the prison population of roughly 20,000 prisoners.

We conclude that ploughing funding into building prisons to accommodate prison projections is not a sustainable approach in the medium or long-term. There must be a focus on investing in services to reduce the £15 billion annual cost of reoffending and prevent offenders from continually returning to prison, thereby reducing the size of the prison population.

Addressing the crisis in the sustainability of our prisons calls for a serious open public debate about the criminal justice system, the role that prison can and cannot play, and its affordability. We are pleased that the Prisons Minister and Justice Secretary have acknowledged this, but, regardless of the political climate, this cannot be just a long-term aspiration. We call for greater transparency to enable the public and others to understand the true costs and the challenging and testing nature of decisions which need to be made about public spending on prisons and other aspects of criminal justice. This should form the first step of the Justice Secretary’s ‘national conversation’ about these matters, which cannot continue to be hidden behind either prison gates or within the Ministry of Justice.

The Justice Committee's main findings and recommendations to the Government are:

  • there should be an overarching strategy for reoffending and a clear vision for what prisons will look like in the future. The Ministry of Justice’s rehabilitative strategies should each be underpinned by clear governance arrangements, action plans, timetables and resources.
  • the Government’s existing approach to prison reform is not sufficient to resolve major structural deficits to provision to reduce crime. There is an urgent need for significant additional resources for cross-departmental provision to reduce reoffending. This would save the Ministry money in the long-term and would reduce the cost to society of reoffending in the long-term.
  • the Treasury must now be able to recognise the wider implications of the decision not to invest in the prison and probation systems in recent years. It should take this into account in the next Spending Review exercise which should be broadened to encompass a more systematic approach to managing the £15bn a year costs of reoffending.

Read the full list of recommendations

The prison population current and projected

The nature of the prison population is rapidly changing. A higher proportion of offenders are in prison for serious violent or sexual offences. The average age of the prison population is also rising. Many prisoners have mental health problems, making it difficult for them to navigate the criminal justice system, and levels of literacy are often low. All these factors and others make managing the current cohort of prisoners extremely challenging.


Figure 1: Prison population 2010-2017

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


The Justice Committee's main findings and recommendations to the Government are:

  • 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 additional burden on the prison service to manage their needs.
  • 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.

Read the full list of recommendations

Explaining the growth in the prison population

Our Inquiry also heard that the rise in the prison population in recent years has resulted from a greater proportion of those convicted being given a custodial sentence and custodial sentences becoming longer. This has been driven by a complex set of factors. The most significant explanation has been legislative factors created by a series of political and policy choices by successive Governments and parliaments.

The Justice Committee's main findings and recommendations to the Government are:

  • the rise in prison population has resulted from a greater proportion of those convicted being given a custodial sentence and from custodial sentences becoming longer. This has been driven by a complex set of factors, including more minor offending being diverted from the courts.
  • the Committee recommends that when changes to sentencing legislation are being debated in Parliament, the Ministry considers what more it might do to make Parliamentarians aware of the likely impact on exceedingly constrained resources.

Read the full list of recommendations

Getting the basics right and providing strong incentives for prisoners to reform

This Report finds that we are now in the depths of an enduring crisis in prison safety and decency that has lasted five years and is taking significant additional investment to rectify, further diverting funds from essential rehabilitative initiatives that could stem or reverse the predicted growth. There is a grave risk that we become locked in a vicious cycle of prisons perpetually absorbing huge amounts of criminal-justice related spending, creating a perverse situation in which there is likely to be more “demand” for prison by sentencers in areas where they have less access to effective community alternatives.


Video: The cost of our prisons

The Ministry has rightly focussed on safety and decency in prisons, however this has come directly at the expense of rehabilitation and purposeful activity. The Ministry needs to refocus its efforts to maintain a dual approach to maintain safety and decency, as well as improve rehabilitation. We heard during our Inquiry that regime restrictions related to staffing shortages and other disruptions severely undermine the delivery of rehabilitative services including education, mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment and offending behaviour programmes. This results in immeasurable wasted costs and does not represent an efficient or effective use of funds. The nature of regimes and restricted access to rehabilitative activities has a cyclical impact on the degradation of regimes and safety, owing to the boredom and frustration of prisoners enduring impoverished regimes, which can in turn lead to violence and self-harm.

We also found that, whilst progress made on the Prison Estates Transformation Programme is welcome, the new-for-old strategy is not working as intended. Sites for new prisons have proven difficult to obtain, older and decrepit prisons have been forced to remain open owing to population pressures and receipts from the sale of existing sites do not cover the cost of building new prisons. The backlog of maintenance continues to grow, and many prisoners continue to live in cells designed for fewer people. On the Ministry’s current spending trajectory, it will take many years before these major issues are resolved. We recommend that as part of its Justice 2030 project the Ministry develops a realistic, properly costed, long-term estate strategy, that enables it to meet the needs of an ever-changing prison population. This should include provision for trials of alternative approaches for accommodating and caring for elderly and otherwise infirm prisoners, for women who do not represent a high risk to the public, and for the treatment of young adults to resolve the long-standing anomaly of the sentence to detention in a young offender institution no longer meaning that they are accommodated in suitably specialist provision.

The Justice Committee's main findings and recommendations to the Government are:

  • there is a grave and worsening situation in the safety of prisons, despite recent advances in effort and resources.
  • prisons are not currently maximising opportunities for rehabilitation. Regimes need to be reported upon in a meaningful way to enable monitoring of their operations, which are key to rehabilitation.
  • for IPP prisoners, the aim of the system should be that most are safely managed back into communities at the earliest opportunity. As part of its review of sentencing, the Ministry should consult on legislative solutions to both release and recall of indeterminate sentenced prisoners to bring about sentencing certainty.
  • whilst progress made on the Prison Estates Transformation Programme is welcome, the new-for-old strategy is not working as intended. The Committee recommends that as part of its Justice 2030 project, the Ministry develops a realistic, properly costed, long-term estate strategy that enables it to meet the needs of an ever-changing prison population.

Read the full list of recommendations

Cross-departmental working to tackle reoffending

David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, set out in his speech on prisons in February 2019 that there is a very strong case to abolish sentences of six months or less altogether. We agree with him and recommend that the Government should introduce a presumption against sentences of less than six months. We believe that this approach will be more financially sustainable and will do more to reduce the cost of reoffending to society. We further recommend that when changes are being made to sentencing legislation in Parliament, the Ministry considers what more it might do to make Parliamentarians aware of the likely impact on increasingly restrained resources.

We conclude in this Report that the ability of former prisoners and those on community sentences to access appropriate support in the community is vital to supporting their rehabilitation and reducing reoffending in the future, potentially reducing the repeated use of imprisonment. We welcome the Government’s recognition of the need for the new iteration of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme to address the shortcomings of the previous one in terms of funding for probation services.

The Justice Committee's main findings and recommendations to the Government are:

  • the Committee supports the Government’s approach to the abolition of short, ineffective prison sentences. The Committee repeats the recommendation of its Transforming Rehabilitation report that the Government should introduce presumption against short custodial sentences and believes. In addition to their welcome move towards avoiding the use of sentences under six months, they should model the effects of abolishing sentences of fewer than 12 months.
  • the Judiciary is entitled to expect that, in addition to being punished, those who are subject to probation supervision have good quality interventions and an opportunity to move on with their lives. The Government should as a medium-term priority, consider the value of judicial monitoring in its effort to improve sentencer confidence.

Read the full list of recommendations