Prison population projected to rise despite recent reduction

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The prison population is forecast to rise by more than 3,000 over the next five years, despite a recent fall in the number of inmates, according to official projections.

As of Friday there were 82,949 prisoners in jails in England and Wales, plus 216 individuals in a prison service-managed immigration removal centre, giving a total of 83,165.

Ministry of Justice analysis said the figure is projected to increase “steadily” by 3,200 above the current level, reaching roughly 86,400 places in March 2023.

The number of prisoners has fallen by about 2,500 in the last year, driven mainly by a rise in the use of the home detention curfew scheme, under which offenders serve the remaining weeks or months of their sentence in the community.

Despite the forecast rise, the projected future population is lower than was set out in last year’s study.

The new MoJ paper says: “The lower projection reflects recent changes, including increased use of home detention curfew, and decreases in the remand and non-criminal populations, as well as declines in numbers of offenders sentenced.

“These have been offset, however, by increases in custody rates and sentence lengths.”

The prison population, which almost doubled between 1993 and 2016, has come under sharp focus amid surging levels of violence, self-harm and drug use behind bars.

This week, two of the country’s largest jails have been the subject of highly critical watchdog reports.

The prisons inspectorate said many cells in HMP Birmingham were “cramped and overcrowded”, while the Independent Monitoring Board for HMP Pentonville flagged up “persistent overcrowding” at the establishment in north London.

Campaign groups have repeatedly called for a fall in the prison population.

Justice Secretary David Gauke has said he wants to see the numbers in jail fall and Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has backed a reduction in the number of offenders being handed short sentences.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “In a week dominated by the crisis in prisons now, these projections for the future are still the most important document in the minister’s in-tray.

“The policies David Gauke and Rory Stewart adopt in response will be significant long after they have moved on.”

An MoJ spokesman said: “We are committed to making prisons places of safety and reform and have ambitious plans to transform our estate.

“Up to 10,000 new prison places are to be delivered across the country, and only last month we announced that two new prisons would be built at Wellingborough and Glen Parva.

“We are clear that there will always be enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts.”

The projections are  based on assumptions about future custodial convictions and incorporate the anticipated impacts of agreed policy and procedural initiatives.

The headline figures are based on a 50% likelihood of the population reaching or exceeding a given level.

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