Future Prison Population and Estate Capacity

In October 2023, JUSTICE submitted written evidence to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into Future prison population and estate capacity.

Our submission outlined the current state of the prison system in numbers: a population of 88,225 as at 13 October 2023, just over 500 short of the “usable operational capacity” which then existed.  That population is due to increase to over 94,000 within 18 months, and if current progress is any guide, it is unlikely that the Government will deliver on its commitment to create 20,000 further prison places by the mid-2020s.  In addition, Operation Safeguard has been in effect since November 2022, with no end in sight, and the courts have been instructed to delay sentencing those on bail so that pressure can ease.

JUSTICE’s submission noted that the population increase is occurring across the board, but has differential impacts for different groups. For example, over-crowding of the adult male estate is preventing the progression of 18-year-olds from Young Offender Institutions,  while older prisoners may develop complex medical needs that prison health systems are not equipped to address. Capacity pressures, as well as substantial under-staffing, are seriously restricting the quality of regimes and rehabilitation opportunities available, to the detriment of individual prisoners and also potentially to public safety.

Our submission emphasised that building more prison places was not the answer. What is required is a view of the criminal justice system which aims to reduce re-offending – not by locking people up and throwing away the key, but by providing effective tools to improve lives and make change. 

Ideally, there would be reductions in both the number of people imprisoned and the length of their sentences, as well as improvement in the rehabilitation opportunities within and outside prison, and assistance toward reintegration of prison-leavers into the community. This all takes time and money, but it would represent a meaningful investment in a more just future – and without such long-term vision, the present state of prisons in England and Wales is likely to perpetuate.

Read our response here