Prison: The Facts
Anyone and everyone who wants accurate up-to-date information on what is going on in our prisons relies on the prison factfiles produced by the Prison Reform Trust. Known as the Bromley Briefings, they are issued twice a year. The Winter 2022 briefing was published on Sunday (23 January 2022). As usual, I have perused the Briefing in depth and found 10 key facts to share in this post. Since readers of the blog are more than averagely well informed about penal affairs, I have tried to feature some of the less well-known issues.
1: Highest rates of imprisonment
Scotland (138 prisoners per 100,000 citizens) and England and Wales (132/100,000) take their typically dismal place as the countries in Western Europe most like to imprison their citizens. By comparison, here are the figures for France (100), Italy (91), Germany (70) and Norway (56).
2: The critical role of Pre-Sentence Reports
Cases where a pre-sentence report (PSR) has been completed are more than ten times more likely to receive a community sentence than one without a PSR. The decline in the use of alternative disposals to custody has occurred at the same time as the use of pre-sentence reports has decreased. The number of full, written standard PSR (as opposed to on the day oral or written reports) has fallen by a staggering 97% since 2010.
3: Prison sentences are getting longer and longer
Two and a half times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more in the 12 months to June 2021 than the same period in 2008. For more serious, indictable offences, the average prison sentence is now 55.3 months—nearly two years longer than in 2008. As regular readers know, the government is set to accelerate this increase even further.
4: Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP)
Despite its abolition in 2012, there are 1,661 people in prison serving an IPP sentence who have never been released. Nearly all (96%) are still in prison despite having already served their tariff—the minimum period they must spend in custody and considered necessary to serve as punishment for the offence. There are a further 1,357 people serving an IPP sentence who are back in prison having previously been released—the same number as the previous year.
5: Prison recalls
Since the introduction of compulsory post-release supervision for people released from short-term sentences in 2015, the number of people recalled back to custody has increased, particularly amongst women . 7,186 people serving a sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison in the year to June 2021.
6: More people on remand
Around one in six people in prison (16%) are there on remand—12,990 people. The majority are awaiting trial (65%), whilst the rest await sentencing. The current figure is the highest in a decade.
7: Overcrowding remains endemic
The prison system as a whole has been overcrowded in every year since 1994. Almost two in every three prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded (77 of the 120 prisons), with more than 15,900 people held in overcrowded accommodation—more than a fifth of the prison population. The current level of overcrowding has remained broadly unchanged for the last 18 years. However, the sustained reduction in the prison population due to court closures meant that it decreased slightly last year.
8: The cost of prison is reducing
The cost of a prison place reduced by 15% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20. The average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales is now £44,640.
9: Racial disparity
Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population, 21,537 people, are from a minority ethnic group. 13% identify as Black/African/Carribean/Black British; 8% as Asian/Asian British; and 5% as mixed/multiple ethnic groups. Black prisoners are five times more likely than white prisoners to have PAVA (pepper) spray used against them.
10: Short sentences for women
The proportion of women being sent to prison to serve very short prison sentences has risen sharply. In 1993 only a third of custodial sentences given to women were for less than six months — in 2020 it was almost three in five (58%).
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.