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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The numbers in prison and on probation are down

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Latest stats show 3% drops in prison population & probation caseload.

The Ministry of Justice issues its offender management statistics bulletins every quarter. They provide a snapshot of the levels of activity in the prison and probation systems. They are a good source of the latest data for researchers like me, but often tell a similar story.

However, the latest bulletin issued last Thursday (31 January 2019) reveals a number of changing trends and is worth a closer look. The bulletin covers the prison population up to 31 December 2018 while other quarterly stats refer the period between July and September last year.

The Prison Population

After being relatively stable for the past five years, the prison population fell in 2018 in marked contrast to the increasing prison population trend that was observed between the 1950’s and early 2000’s. The latest data shows:

  • The total prison population (82,236) has decreased by 3%, compared with the same point in the previous year. This is being driven by fewer people entering prison (“first receptions”), given that there are also fewer prisoners being released.
  • In fact there was an 11% decrease in first receptions in the quarter examined compared to the same quarter the previous year.
  • 17,136 people were released from prison in the latest quarter, a decrease of 4% on the previous year. This is likely to be a growing trend as the prison population shifts towards those serving longer sentences.
  • There was also a 13% increase in the number of people recalled which the MoJ attributes to an increase in Home Detention Curfews, following a change in policy in early 2018.
  • The growing epidemic of violence and dissatisfaction with poor conditions is also clearly indicated in the statistics with a total of 54,710 adjudications between July and September 2018 – a jump of 14% on the same quarter in the previous year. 6,003 prisoners were given additional days to their sentences. 
  • One piece of good news is that the remand population decreased by 9%.
  • The number of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) went down by 18%. However, there are still 2,480 IPPs in prison, 91% of whom have served past the date of their original tariff.
  • The number of people serving Extended Determinate Sentences (the replacement for IPP with long, but finite periods of post-release supervision) has already reached 5,065 – an increase of 18% on the previous year.

Probation Caseload

The total number of offenders on probation was 258,157 at the end of September 2018, a 3% decrease in the total number of offenders on probation (court orders and pre and post release supervision) compared with 30 September 2017.

The overall court order caseload fell by 7% between the quarters ending September 2017 and 2018, with the Community Order (CO) caseload decreasing by 5% and the Suspended Sentence Order (SSO) caseload decreasing by 9%. The number of offenders starting COs showed no percentage change over this period, while the number of offenders starting SSOs with requirements decreased by 23%. This may be caused by a recent instruction to probation officers not to recommend SSOs in Pre-Sentence reports, leading to more offenders being given COs in their place. The overall caseload of offenders supervised before or after release from prison showed no percentage change between the end of September 2017 and 2018, but those supervised under post release rose by 2%.

Regarding the number of requirements started under court orders, the latest quarter has seen a continued rise in the number of accredited programme requirements under COs, and in terms of combinations of requirements, rehabilitation combined with unpaid work has seen a further significant rise under COs.

Of the court orders terminated in the quarter ending September 2018, 69% of community orders were terminated successfully (i.e. ran their full course or were terminated early for good progress); for the supervision periods of suspended sentence orders, 74% of all those terminated were terminated successfully over this period.

The number of Pre-Sentence court reports prepared by the Probation Service decreased by 13% between the quarter ending September 2018 and the same quarter in the previous year. 

6,240 people were recalled to custody between July and September 2018, 465 of which were Home Detention Curfew (HDC) recalls, an increase of 4% from the previous quarter.

It will be interesting to see to what extent this trend of a falling probation caseload affects the total budget for the next wave of Community Rehabilitation Companies that the MoJ is in the process of procuring.

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