As the Justice Secretary announces 70 resettlement prisons, briefing finds budget cuts and overcrowding are leading to less purposeful activity, reduced regimes and more time in cell.e-

Massive cuts in prison staff and budgets are placing overcrowded prisons in England and Wales under unprecedented strain and undermining government plans to transform rehabilitation, the Prison Reform Trust's new iPad app Prison: The Facts, Bromley Briefings Online, reveals. It is also available as a PDF by clicking here.

On Friday 28 June 2013, the prison population in England and Wales was 83,005. Between June 1993 and June 2012 the prison population in England and Wales increased by 41,800 prisoners to over 86,000.

The new iPad app, kindly supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals that overcrowding and high reoffending rates are a fact of life in today’s prison system. Although the prison population has stabilised in recent months, there are still 6,092 more people in the prison system than it is designed and built to hold. On 31 May 2013, there were 72 out of 124 establishments over the Prison Service’s Certified Normal Accommodation: “the good, decent standard of accommodation that the Service aspires to provide all prisoners”.

The most overcrowded prison in England and Wales, according to official figures, is HMP Swansea in Wales. Designed to hold 240 men, it now holds 442. In second place is Wandsworth (built for 730, it holds 1,226) and in third is Dorchester (built to hold 152 men, it holds 252). A list of the top ten overcrowded prisons in England and Wales and their rates of overcrowding is included below.

The government is currently embarking on one of the largest systematic reform programmes of the criminal justice system in recent history. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which receives its third reading in the House of Lords next week, proposes mandatory supervision for all those sentenced to custody for any period over one day and up to two years.

The updated impact assessment of the Bill reveals that around 13,000 offenders will be recalled or committed to custody as a result of the proposals, giving a prison places increase of around 600 additional places per year.

Plans to re-designate around 70 prisons across England and Wales as “resettlement” prisons are taking place at a time when the National Offender Management Service has to make overall resource savings of almost 25% in real terms by 2014-15.[1] The recent spending review saw a further 10% reduction in the Ministry of Justice’s budget. Such significant savings are already having an impact on staffing levels, with the number of prison officers employed falling by 7% between 31 August 2010 and 31 August 2012 over a period when prison numbers have remained stable.

The Prisons Inspectorate has raised concerns about whether there are sufficient resources available to provide a safe and secure service and do anything useful with people whilst they are in prison. “Resources are now stretched very thinly...there is a pretty clear choice for politicians and policyg makers - reduce prison populations or increase prison budgets,”[2] it has said.

Prison has a poor record for reducing reoffending – 47% of adults are reconvicted within one year of being released. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 58%.[3] Reoffending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the economy between £9.5 and £13 billion per year. As much as three quarters of this cost can be attributed to former short-sentenced prisoners: some £7-10 billion a year.

By contrast, court ordered community sentences are more effective by 8.3% at reducing one-year proven reoffending rates than custodial sentences of less than 12 months for similar offenders.

The briefing highlights the impact of imprisonment on people in prison and their families. Approximately 200,000 children per year in England and Wales have a parent in prison. This is around double the number of children affected by divorce in the family.

The briefing reveals the social and economic disadvantages faced by people in prison. Fewer than 1% of all children in England are in care, but looked after children make up 30% of boys and 44% of girls in custody.

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Is Government expecting too much of our overcrowded prisons? This iPad app and briefing reveals that the prison system is flooded with petty offenders, addicts, and people who are mentally ill. Plans in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill to extend statutory supervision to short sentenced prisoners risk more people getting caught in the justice dragnet and could lead to even greater strain on our ailing prison system.

“Resettlement and rehabilitation do matter but, until and unless you reserve prison for serious and violent offenders, you cannot hope to cut sky-high reoffending rates or maintain safe and decent regimes. Given the pace and scale of change, Ministers focused on developing the justice market could easily lose sight of the solutions that lie outside of prison bars in health, housing and employment.”

[1] National Offender Management Service (2013) NOMS Business Plan 2013-14, London: NOMS

[2] HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (2012) Annual Report 2011-12, London: The Stationery Office

[3] Table 18a, 19a, Ministry of Justice (2013) Proven reoffending quarterly July 2010 to June 2011, London: Ministry of Justice


In use CNA


% population to in use CNA*









































* Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA), or uncrowded capacity, is the Prison Service’s own measure of accommodation.  CNA represents the good, decent standard of accommodation that the Service aspires to provide all prisoners.