Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile

17th December 2017

The Prison Reform Trust has published the latest edition of the Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, which gives a comprehensive view of the UK prison system, including the state of the UK prisons, the people in prison, health in prison, and rehabilitation and resettlement, and provides extensive statistics on a wide range of key issues within the prison system.

Overcrowding was highlighted as being a consistent issue within the UK prison service, and one that affects nearly all prisons in the UK. Therefore, overcrowding is a main focus of the briefing, and this year, the Bromley Briefing goes even further to provide a new perspective to looking at the statistics over the last three decades with a new section called “The Long View”. 

Key Facts from the Briefing:

England and Wales

  • Every year since 1999, on average, one third of prisoners remain in overcrowded conditions.
  • In less than 30 years, the capacity of prisons has increased by over 32,000 places, with 27 prisons opening since 1990, and recently, plans have been announced for four new prisons and five community prisons for women.
  • Since 1986 the prison population has risen by 82%, from over 45,000 to 85,556 people recorded in November 2017.
  • 71% of custodial sentences were handed down for non-violent offences, and 47% of these sentences were for six months or less.
  • Use of suspended sentences has risen by slightly since 2007, however, they still represent only 5% of all sentences.
  • Use of community sentences has nearly halved since 2007.

The Briefing shows the stark reality that England and Wales are attempting to confront the issue of overcrowding with massive investments in creating more prison space, by building new prisons and making extensions to existing prisons. However, England and Wales are increasingly relying on imprisonment as the main approach to crime. The Briefing highlights that England and Wales overuse imprisonment for petty crimes, and rely on short-term prison sentences to deter people from offending, instead of investing and using alternatives to imprisonment.

Alternatively, the Briefing reports that Scotland and Northern Ireland are committed to a prison reform programme. Scotland is taking a different approach to England and Wales and are increasing the use of community sentences, reducing the use of short term custodial sentences and remand, and improving the reintegration of individuals from custody to community. It is reported that the prison population in Scotland is in decline, and in the last decade, the number of community sentences handed down rose by 18%. In the case of Northern Ireland, it is reported that a 10-year plan is in action, focusing on improvement of prison regimes and outcomes for prisoners, however, although the number of people in prison in Northern Ireland is declining, the number of custodial sentences handed down for failure to pay fines has risen by 139 sentences since 2014.

Read the Autumn 2017 issue of the ‘Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile’ here.

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