Howard League responds to new prison population projections

The prison population in England and Wales could rise by 30% in the next four years, official figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform indicate today (Thursday 29 February).

Projections published by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of people in prison could rise to as high as 114,800 by March 2028.

The population currently stands at 87,973, having been as low as 77,859 as recently as April 2021. If it does rise to 114,800, this will mean that the number of people behind bars will have soared by 47 per cent in only seven years.

The prison system is already severely overcrowded, with 70 of the 121 jails in England and Wales holding more people than they are designed to accommodate. Official inspection reports published in recent months have shown how rising numbers, combined with chronic staff shortages, are contributing to dire conditions.

The crisis has become so extreme that police forces have been asked to make room for people in their cells because prisons are full. In the King’s Speech last November, ministers revealed plans to imprison people in cells abroad.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “These projections paint an utterly untenable picture.

“While the size of the prison population is unlikely to feature in the campaigning of political parties, whoever wins the next election will face the urgent need to address this problem. Even if prison spaces could be supplied to meet this estimated growth, which seems unlikely, it would divert billions more from lasting solutions to crime and the existing failures of the system would only be magnified further.

“Tackling the overuse of remand and recall would be an important first step to avoid this grim future, but these figures show just how desperately a root and branch review of sentencing and its impact on the demand for prison places is needed.”