An Overview of Our Prisons
Updated: Jan 30
Violence still exists, self-injury persists. Men, women and children continue to be released homeless.
I was just adding the finishing touches to my new book, Criminal – How Our Prisons Are Failing Us All, when The Prison Reform Trust released their latest report on our broken prison system. The Bromley Briefings are user-friendly, accessible and readable documents charting everything from trends in sentence length to reoffending rates.
They give a clear picture of exactly what is going on with crime and punishment and then go further, giving us an in-depth look behind prison walls.
What would I do if all the weeks and months and years I’d spent writing were wasted? If all the data suddenly changed and my book became out of date before it was published?
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. And I say ‘sadly’ because I am desperate for the criminal justice system to be overhauled. I am desperate for the prison population to be diverted to mental health services and substance misuse services and community support services. My book will demonstrate exactly why I feel this way. But for the moment I want to condense some of the stats from the report and lay them out in black and white so you can get a picture of exactly where our prison system stands as we roll into 2022.
There is just too much information in the report to cover here, so in future posts I will address specific areas in more detail. This is just a taster of what is really going on behind the walls of our broken prison estate.
It’s a bleak picture, and one made all the more shocking by the plan to add an additional 19,000 inmates to the prison population by 2026. England, Scotland and Wales already have the highest per capita incarceration rates in western Europe.
396 people died in prison in the year up to September 2021. 81 were self-inflicted deaths. There were two homicides in prison in 2020.
Self-inflicted deaths are over six times more likely in prison than in the general population.
55,542 incidents of self-injury were recorded in 2020.
Nearly three in ten of our prisons are rated of “concern” or “serious concern” by HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS). 59% of male local prisons were rated as of “concern” or “serious concern.”
32% of people in local prisons had less than two hours out of their cells on a weekday—this rose to 80% during the weekend in some prisons.
27% of the prison population, 21,537 people, are from a minority ethnic group. If our prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison.
The economic cost of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) over-representation in our prison system is estimated to be £234m a year.
The odds of receiving a custodial sentence, even adjusting for every other factor, goes through the roof if the defendant is not white. Black people are 53%, Asian 55%, and other ethnic minority groups 81% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court.
14% of adult men and 12% of women surveyed by inspectors reported that they had developed a problem with illicit drugs since they had arrived at prison.
16% of men and 14% of women are serving a sentence in prison are there for drugs offences.
Short prison sentences do not reduce reoffending. Those serving 12 months or less have a 63% chance of returning to custody within 12 months.
But receiving treatment for drug and alcohol addictions in the community can reduce reoffending. Public Health England found that there was a reduction of 44% in the number of reoffenders, and a 33% reduction in the number of offences committed in the two years following treatment.
52% of people released from prison between 2020–21 had no settled accommodation on release. Around one in eight were homeless or sleeping rough.