The latest trends
Last Thursday (29 July 2021), the MoJ and Office for National Statistics published the latest edition of its offender management statistics bulleting which cover the first quarter of this year up to the end of March. Many of the facts and figures continue, of course, to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve picked out some of the key trends below.
There were 14,131 first receptions into prison between January and March 2021, a fall of 17% compared to the same period in 2020. This is almost certainly due to the fact that we are comparing a non-COVID period with a COVID period. The next edition of this bulletin, due out at the end of October, will show us how far the system has bounced back or whether the court backlog is still having a substantial impact.
Releases also down
There were 11,419 releases from sentences between January and March 2021; this is 22% lower than the same period in 2020. The official statistician comments that as the prison population shifts towards those serving longer sentences, we expect fewer releases in each period. The number is also depressed by there being fewer first receptions of people serving short sentences in the previous six month period with the court prioritising more serious offences during the pandemic.
Remand prison population highest for over 10 years
Following a decreasing trend since 2014, the remand population has dramatically increased since June 2019. As at 30 June 2021, the remand population was 12,727. This is the highest annual (‘as at 30 June’) figure since June 2010.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected normal court operations. The number of outstanding cases (“caseload”) at Magistrates Courts increased by around 21% between Q1 (January to March) 2020 and Q1 2021; from around 328,000 to 396,000. Between June 2020 and June 2021, the total remand population increased by 12%. The number of males and females in custody on remand rose by 12% (to 12,084) and 7% (to 643) respectively.
Most of those in custody on remand were being held for either:
- Violence against the person (28% of the untried population and 18% of the convicted unsentenced population)
- Drug offences (28% of the untried population and 32% of the convicted unsentenced population)
Proportion of sexual offenders slowly falling
While this is one of the largest offence groups of immediate custodial sentenced prisoners, their number has continued to fall since mid-2018 after a record high since at least 2002. There was a 4% decrease (to 11,779) in the immediate custodial sentenced sexual offender population in the 12 months to 30 June 2021.
There were 1,722 IPP (those serving Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences) prisoners as at 30 June 2021 which represents a decrease of 13% in the last 12 months. This figure has decreased since the June 2012 peak of 6,080, and while the number of IPP prisoners who have been recalled to custody increased until 30 June 2020, it has since decreased by 2% to 1,332. The proportion of the IPP population who are post-tariff continues to increase; 96% of IPP prisoners were post-tariff as of 30 June 2021 compared to 94% at the same time in 2020.
Extended determinate sentences
EDSs were made available for courts to impose from 13 April 2015, effectively replacing IPPs. People sentenced to EDSs are not released automatically at the two thirds stage of the sentence but instead are only eligible to apply for Parole at that stage. However, they are released automatically at the end of their custodial term (unlike IPPs). After release EDS prisoners will be subject to supervision until the end of the aggregate of the custodial period and the extension period – up to 5 years for violent offences and up to 8 years for sexual offences. On 30 June 2021, 6,164 prisoners were serving EDSs; a 6% increase compared to the same time last year.
A welcome drop in licence recalls
There were 5,217 licence recalls between January and March 2021, a 21% decrease on the same quarter in 2020. To my mind, this may be attributable to two issues: the reduced service operated by the probation (it was also harder for people on supervision not to comply with their licence conditions when compliance simply meant answering a weekly phone call) and the reduced opportunities to commit some crimes (theft, burglaries and robberies) during lockdown.
Probation caseload down
This number of people on probation, 224,174, at the end of March 2021 has decreased by 7% compared to the number supervised as at 31 March 2020. As you can see from the graphic above, the number of people supervised on a community sentence is the lowest for many years.
Between January and March 2021, 71% of 11,470 Community Orders and 80% of 6,964 Suspended Sentence Orders (for the supervision period) were terminated successfully, i.e. ran their full course or were terminated early for good progress.