The prison population has been rising steadily since 1993, increasing from 42,000 to today's unprecedented levels. This means that there are now a higher percentage of people in prison here than in any other country in western Europe.
The impact of overcrowding
- Overcrowding means that over 12,000 prisoners are being held two to a cell designed for one. Many of these cells have unscreened toilets which fail to provide even the most basic of human dignity.
- In a desperate attempt to find empty beds, prisoners are being transported all over the country. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons found that nearly half of all male prisoners in 2009 were more than 50 miles from home. This costs the taxpayer millions of pounds in transportation costs and in delays to the criminal justice system as a result of late arrivals for court appearances. It also jeopardises family relationships and the chances of successful re-integration back into the community on release; two of the most important factors in reducing re-offending.
- The huge prison population is undermining any good work the prison service is trying to do in terms of making the prison experience constructive for the majority prisoners. In 2009, HMIP found that there was too little activity, including education and employment, to engage the number of people held in prison. The number of prisoners allowed out of their cell for association five times a week had dropped, as had the number allowed outside for exercise.
- Prisons cost £2.2bn a year. With re-offending rates after release still at about 60% (and 74-75% for young offenders) prison is an expensive failure, which has no impact on crime levels or the fear of crime.