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Prison population to increase by 3,200 by March 2023

Despite decreases since the start of the year, the prison population is projected to steadily increase from its current level.

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Longer sentences driving increase

Last week (23 August 2018), the MoJ and Office for National Statistics published its latest prison population projection which predicts a further increase despite continued falls in the number of people being arrested and charged with crimes.

The main points are summarised in the graphic below:

Overall projections

The population is expected to grow reaching roughly 86,400 in March 2023. In the short term (to April 2019), an increase in the number of prison receptions is forecast, particularly of shorter sentenced offenders, due to the assumption that the number of cases received at the courts will increase from current position to the average levels observed in the 12 months to early 2018.

In the longer term, increases are driven by the underlying growth in the population of offenders sentenced to longer-determinate terms (in particular, those sentenced to 4 years or more). Growth in the sentenced determinate population, serving custodial sentences of 4 or more years, also reflects increases due to offenders sentenced to Extended Determinate Sentences (EDS), following the abolition of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences. As a result, growth in the determinate population is partially offset by declines in the indeterminate population, as IPP offenders are released from custody.


The Recall population is projected to increase above current levels. Projected growth is driven by an expected increase in the pool of offenders on licence particularly as further IPP offenders are released, a proportion of which will likely be recalled to custody. There is no evidence to suggest the future direction of determinate recall population, so the MoJ is using a flat projection at current levels. The large increase in the recall population has been driven by high numbers of short term prisoners being recalled following the Transforming Rehabilitation changes. If the MoJ decides to change the requirements for licence supervision (as it is considering) for short term prisoners, this may reduce the number of people in prison for recall.

New drivers

Further changes in the prison population are expected as the result of a range of policies, including those already in effect but not yet fully represented in the population and those expected to take effect over the projection horizon. The projections only consider the impact of government policies which have achieved Royal Assent. These include:

  • The impacts of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 which includes provisions for restricting the use of cautions; changes to the framework for the sentencing and release of serious and dangerous sexual and violent offenders; and the introduction of a new test for the release of recalled determinate sentence prisoners;
  • The impacts of the Serious Crime Act 2015 which includes provisions for additional caseload and associated custodial sentences relating to new offences for controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship;
  • The expected impacts of the Sentencing Council guidelines on reduction of sentence for early guilty pleas;
  • The expected impacts of the Sentencing Council guidelines on Possession of Bladed Articles and Offensive Weapons, leading to increases in sentencing levels.


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