England and Wales’ prison population currently stands at 84,511. The number of people behind bars has more than doubled since the early nineties, and is forecast to continue to grow. The UK jails more people than anywhere else in western Europe, and has a higher rate of imprisonment for assault and battery, rape and other sexual offences than the European average. Here’s a closer look at the figures and the strain they are putting on the prison system.
Jails Over Capacity
According to the Ministry of Justice, the maximum number of inmates that the prison system should hold is 75,937. But the prison population is currently 8,574 over that figure. Overcrowding in the prison system unevenly distributed, with some jails holding far more people than their capacity. HM Prison Leeds is currently the most overcrowded jail at 161% capacity, closely followed by HM Prison Wandsworth at 159%, and HM Prison Durham at 155%. Thousands of extra prison spaces have been created in recent years. HM Prison Berwyn opened in Wales last year – one of a number of ‘super prisons’ planned to cope with the relentless growth of the prison population.
How Does the UK Compare to Other Countries?
At 145 inmates per 100,000 members of the population, the UK’s rate of imprisonment stands at roughly the global mid-point. The US has the highest rate, at 742 per 100,000, followed by Russia, at 439 per 100,000. The UK’s incarceration rate is higher than in France, Italy and Spain.
Women in Prison
Men are 22 times more likely to be imprisoned than women. Almost 60% of women imprisoned are victims of domestic abuse, and women account for a disproportionate number of self-harm incidents in prison; despite making up only 5% of the prison population, they accounted for 21% of all incidents of self-harm in the year ending June 2016.
Growing Number of Veterans Jailed
A growing number of former members of the armed forces are serving prison sentences. A study in 2009 found that 8,500 former service men were imprisoned, accounting for almost 10% of the prison population.
Over-60s Behind Bars
Over-60s are reportedly the fastest growing section of the prison population. The number of inmates over the age of 60 rose by 130% between 2002 and 2013 – a figure that has been attributed to an increase in the number of convictions for historical sexual abuse.
The size of the prison population is one of a number of factors that has put the prison system under increasing pressure, leading to appalling conditions in many jails in England and Wales. For the first time ever, prison inspectors have issued the government with an urgent notification, after inspectors deemed Nottingham Prison “fundamentally unsafe”, and campaigners have urged the government to take bold action to urgently reduce the prison population.