The 30 most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales are twice as likely to be rated as failing by the prison service compared with prisons overall, a new analysis published with the latest annual edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile, kindly supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals.
The new analysis of Ministry of Justice prison population and prison performance ratings by the Prison Reform Trust suggests that overcrowding is undermining the resilience of establishments and their ability to maintain safety and decency in the face of steep cuts to staffing and resources. 

It also shows that the top three most overcrowded prisons are all rated as “of concern” while five of the six prisons rated “of serious concern” by the prison service are overcrowded. A full analysis of prisons by performance and overcrowding levels is below.
At the end of October 2016, 77 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded. Overcrowded prisons hold 10,442 more people than for which they were designed. Because people have to double up in cells to accommodate additional numbers, this means that over 20,000 people—nearly one quarter of the prison population—still share cells designed for fewer occupants, often eating their meals in the same space as the toilet they share.
The prison system as a whole has been overcrowded in every year since 1994, largely driven by a rising prison population which has nearly doubled in the past two decades and now stands at 85,000. The government’s white paper on prison safety and reform holds out the ambition for a “less crowded” estate but contains little by way of concrete proposals to achieve that aim. In his evidence to the Justice Committee last week, the chief executive of the prison service Michael Spurr said that overcrowding would not be resolved in this, or the next Parliament.
The Prison Reform Trust’s analysis shows a correlation between levels of overcrowding and prison performance. In the past three years, the proportion of prisons rated “of concern” or “of serious concern” by the prison service has doubled and the number now stands at 31 establishments. The number of prisons rated “exceptional” has plummeted from 43 in 2011–12 to only eight in 2015–16.
The Prison Reform Trust’s analysis reveals that:

  • The 30 most overcrowded prisons are twice as likely to be failing compared with prisons overall. Half (15) of the top 30 most overcrowded prisons are rated “of concern” or “of serious concern”. This compares to just over one quarter (31) of the 117 prisons in England and Wales rated as “of concern” or “of serious concern”.
  • The top three most overcrowded prisons are all rated as “of concern”. The most overcrowded prison in England and Wales is Leeds. Designed to hold 669 men, it now holds 1,145. Second is Swansea (built to hold 268 men, it holds 456) and third is Wandsworth (built for 943, it holds 1,564). All are rated as “of concern”.
  • Five of the six prisons rated “of serious concern” by the prison service are overcrowded. The six prisons rated as “of serious concern” are Doncaster, Bristol, Isis, Hewell, Wormwood Scrubs and Liverpool. Only Liverpool is currently operating below uncrowded capacity.
  • Only one of the eight prisons—Whatton—rated as having “exceptional performance” is overcrowded.

Overcrowding can affect the performance of prisons in a number of ways. It can impact on whether activities, staff and other resources are available to reduce the risk of reoffending. Inspections regularly find a third or more of prisoners unoccupied during the working day because a prison holds more people than it should. Overcrowding makes it more likely that basic human needs will be neglected with key parts of the prison—showers, kitchens, health care centres, gyms—facing a higher demand than they were designed for. 
Overcrowding also has a significant impact on where prisoners are held and their ability to progress in their sentences. Every day prisoners are bussed around the country to remote locations just to make sure that every last bed space is filled. Prisoners progressing well are suddenly told they must move on, regardless of their sentence plan or where their family and loved ones live.

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Ahead of today's government announcement on prison reform, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 

“The time for aspirational rhetoric on prisons is over. We expect a White Paper that promises concrete standards, approved by Parliament, against which the Government must deliver, and a boost in resources to make that possible. All of that will be welcome. But the legacy is twenty five years of political failure to grip prison inflation and chronic overcrowding. Liz Truss will have to overturn that inheritance, and urgently reduce the demand for prison places, to make her plan work.”

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The prison population in England and Wales has gone over 85,000 after an increase of more than 1,000 people from the beginning of September, statistics published today (28 October) by the Ministry of Justice reveal. 

The number of people in prison now stands at 85,108. On 2 September the figure was 84,066.

While prison numbers tend to fluctuate during the course of a year, the rapid increase is unusual, and will have placed additional pressure on an already overcrowded and overstretched prison system experiencing record levels of violence, self-harm, and self-inflicted deaths.

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An explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences and the increased use of long determinate sentences are key drivers behind the near doubling of prison numbers in the past two decades. The latest edition of the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, published today (30 November) by the Prison Reform Trust, reveals the cost of our addiction to imprisonment in wasted time, money and lives.

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Reforming our prisons

16/11/2015 11:54:00

As we begin Prisons Week (15–21 November) Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, has written an article in this month's edition of The Friend magazine. You can read the full article by clicking 'read more'.

“Prison is a place where people are sent as a punishment, not for further punishments...Human beings whose lives have been reckoned so far in costs—to society, to the criminal justice system, to victims and to themselves—can become assets—citizens who can contribute and demonstrate the human capacity for redemption.”

These were the words of the incoming Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, in July this year. For Friends, and others with a longstanding commitment to prison reform, this was a welcome reassertion of the principles which should underpin any civilised penal system. So far so good. However, the Justice Secretary has inherited a system that is deteriorating both on internal and external measures, and a requirement to carve anything from 25% to 40% out of its budget over the next five years.

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Commenting on today’s (9 November 2015) announcement that the Ministry of Justice will build nine new prisons, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The Justice Secretary’s commitment to better conditions and more effective rehabilitation are welcome. Many of our prisons need to be shut down.

"But prison reform is about more than replacing old buildings.  The crisis he faces now is with prisons that have deteriorated sharply as budgets have been slashed and staff numbers cut. Pressure on the system has to be relieved by revising the sentencing framework and curbing ever lengthening sentence lengths , investing now in diverting addicts and people with mental health needs into treatment and dealing with the forgotten thousands of prisoners still held long beyond terms set by courts.

"To live within his means, Michael Gove needs to close many more prisons than he builds. He can do that safely and the time has come to set out how.”

You can also read our response to the Spending Review by clicking here.

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Commenting on the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons annual report 2014-15, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“No mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. The backdrop is a more punitive climate, increased injustice and uncertainty which have sucked hope out of the system for prisoners and staff. Solutions lie in good strong leadership from the new Secretary of State through to prison governors, a commitment to treat people in prison with humanity and respect and a determination to make prison an effective place of last resort.”

Read the report by clicking here

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A rapid expansion in the prison population in England and Wales over the past twenty years is placing a growing burden on the taxpayer while reoffending rates out of prison have remained stubbornly high, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust.

Analysis published in Prison: The Facts estimates that in 2014 the cost of holding that increased population at today’s costs was an extra £1.22bn compared with twenty years ago—a cost of over £40 per year for every UK taxpayer.

This extra funding of prison places is equivalent to employing an additional 56,000 newly qualified nurses.

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Twenty five years after the Strangeways riot began on 1 April 1990, chronic overcrowding driven by a near doubling of the prison population over the past two decades continues to undermine standards of decency in prisons and restrict opportunities for rehabilitation, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust. 

Lord Woolf’s subsequent inquiry into the causes of the disturbances constituted a wide-ranging examination of conditions in Britain’s prisons and represents the most important analysis of the penal system for the past 100 years.

Strangeways 25 years on: achieving fairness and justice in our prisonsassesses progress made against Lord Woolf’s 12 main recommendations for a more fair and just prison system. It says that many of the factors which contributed to the unrest have resurfaced today. Although the Prison Service is better able today to ensure control and security, this has threatened to set back decades of painstaking progress it has made to improve treatment and conditions.

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A prison system built to hold young men is struggling to cope with the rapidly growing numbers of old, sick and disabled people behind bars, a new Prison Reform Trust report, supported by the Bromley Trust, reveals.

The report, launched at HMP Brixton today (Tuesday 28 October), comes the day before the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous MP is due to give evidence on older prisoners to the Justice Select Committee.

People aged 60 and over and those aged 50–59 are the first and second fastest growing age groups in the prison population. Between 2002 and 2014 there was an increase of 146% and 122% in the number of prisoners held in those age groups respectively. On 31 March 2014 there were 102 people in prison aged 80 and over. Five people in prison were 90 or older.

Ever-lengthening sentences mean people in prison are growing old and frail with high rates of unmet social care and support needs. Two in five (37%) of those over the age of 50 in prison have a disability.

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