Prison population set to hit almost 100,000 in five years, report says

Ministry of Justice forecasts rise in prison population to pre-Covid numbers of around 84,000 by July next year, before 'steadily' increasing to 97,500 three years later

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The prison population in England and Wales is set to rise to almost 100,000 in five years, according to official projections.

On Friday there were 79,580 prisoners in jails in England and Wales, but this is expected to increase to around 98,500 by March 2026.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) analysis said there will be a rise to pre-Covid numbers of around 84,000 by July next year, before “steadily” increasing to 97,500 three years later.

The numbers of jailed men, women and children aged 15 to 17 are all expected to increase as part of the surge of almost 19,000 by 2026.

The MOJ said this was due to the recruitment of an extra 23,400 police officers, coupled with “high” numbers of court cases still awaiting trial.

It also considered the impact of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going through Parliament, which contains wide-ranging measures aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “The latest projection for the prison population will be portrayed by ministers as a policy success, with more criminals brought to justice. But the detail actually contains multiple admissions of failure.

“The Government is recruiting 23,400 police officers but has no idea whether their time is to be spent preventing crime or chasing after it. Action to reduce reoffending is promised but apparently will have no impact.

“A strategy to reduce the imprisonment of women will fail so completely that the female prison population will grow by over a third. Inadequate support in the community for people on indeterminate sentences will mean that even more are being needlessly recalled to prison.

“The price of all these failures is an extra 18,000 people in prison by 2025, costing us all an additional £800 million every year, not to mention the £4 billion already put aside to build the cells to house them.

“Exactly why, uniquely in western Europe, we need to lock up so many of our fellow citizens, is never explained. It’s a foolish waste of scarce resources, driven by politics, not evidence.”

The report also said that by 2025, the number of over-50s behind bars is expected to rise from just over 13,000 to 14,800.

It said this was “driven by the increasing determinate population and the knock-on impact on the recall population as prisoners released after determinate sentences are recalled”.

The adult male prison population is projected to increase from 74,805 as at the end of July this year to 92,500 by July 2025, while there will be a rise of just over 1,000 female inmates.

The number of children in youth detention centres is also set to increase.

The chief executive of Women in Prison, Dr Kate Paradine, said: “These figures show the Government is planning for failure, flying in the face of its own evidence and strategy which acknowledges most women in prison should not be there.

“Prison is a dead end, one that tears families and communities apart.

“Putting more women in prison won’t make our communities safer; what will is addressing the root causes of offending.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are investing £4 billion in 20,000 prison places – the largest prison building programme in generations – to keep the public safe and ensure we will always be able to keep offenders off the streets.

“Thousands of extra places are already under construction – through new houseblocks, the return of HMP Morton Hall in December and HMP Five Wells opening in early 2022.”