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Efforts to tackle racism in prison have regressed
The Winter 2021 Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile says the prison service has lost the focus and commitment to tackle racism inside.

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All the latest prison facts and figures

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 2021 issue was published last week (4 February 2021). As well as all the latest penal statistics, each edition has a theme and the current edition opens with a piece by Beverley Thompson OBE,  a former senior civil servant and Race Equality Advisor at the Prison Service, who charts the complex history of race relations in the prison service over the past two decades, from the murder of Zahid Mubarek at Feltham prison in 2000, which prompted a significant review of prison policy on race relations, through to the publication in 2017 of David Lammy’s seminal review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, BAME individuals in the criminal justice system. Ms Thompson summarises the prison service’s lack of progress:

“It is disheartening to see a service which demonstrated such maturity, vision, transparency and commitment to eradicating racism and discrimination, but which unfortunately appears to have regressed. It is only right that we ask, “if not now, when”.

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: Scotland and England & Wales have highest imprisonment rates

Scotland and England & Wales remain top (or bottom, depending on how you see things) for imprisoning the highest proportion of their citizens.

2: We are sending people to prison for longer

Almost three times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or longer in the 12 months to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2008. For indictable offences, the average prison sentence is now 58 months, more than two years longer than in 2008.

3: Prison recalls remain high

8,931 people serving a
sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison in the year
to June 2020 Indeed, on 30 September last year, there were 9,250 people in prison recalled from licence.

4: Two babies died at birth in prison last year

Tragically, two babies died at birth whilst their mothers were in prison in 2019–20, one at HMP Bronzefield and another at HMP Styal. They are the subject of inquest proceedings and the PPO investigation will publish the findings shortly after.

5: The number of prison officers is falling again

The government launched a recruitment drive to reverse the 26% drop in frontline staff between 2010-2017. This was successful with a further 2,500 staff in post by Christmas 2018. However, now the recruitment drive has ended numbers are once again declining. There are now over 700 fewer officers employed than there were in 2019.

6: People in prison have typically faced many more challenges in life

Every Bromley Briefing FactFile includes an invaluable profile of the social characteristics of adult prisoners compared to the general population. I have reproduced the latest infographic below.

7: Remand trends

Around one in seven people in prison (15%) are there on remand—12,274 people. The majority are awaiting trial (69%), whilst the rest await sentencing. Around one in 10 people (9%) remanded into custody by magistrates’ courts were subsequently acquitted. A further 12% received a non-custodial sentence. In the Crown Court, the figures were 9% and 14%, respectively. After a decade of gradual decline, remands in custody have increased sharply in the last year.

8: Racial disparity

Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population, 21,574 people, are from a minority ethnic group. If our prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison—the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons. The economic cost of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) over-representation in our prison system is estimated to be £234m a year.

There is a clear direct association between ethnic minority group and the odds of receiving a custodial sentence. Black people are 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic minority groups 81% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court, even when factoring in higher not-guilty plea rates. Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. They are also nearly 60% more likely to plead not guilty.

9: Life and indeterminate sentences

Many people in prison don’t know if, or when, they might be released. 10,793 people are currently in prison serving an indeterminate sentence—16% of the sentenced prison population, up from 9% in 1993. 

Despite its abolition in 2012, there are 1,895 people in prison serving an IPP sentence who have never been released.

10: Fewer Home Detention Curfews

HDC allows people to live outside of prison, providing they do not breach strict conditions, to help prepare them for life on release. Only people serving sentences of between three months and less than four years are eligible. There were 12,832 releases on HDC in 2019, a decrease (13%) on the number the previous year. Use of HDC has fallen significantly since 2002 when over 20,000 people were released. Just over a third (35%) of people who were eligible to be released were granted HDC in 2019.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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