House of Lords Library

Prison Overcrowding

Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This Lords Library briefing has been written ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on 7 September 2017 on overcrowding in prisons.

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In England and Wales, prison crowding is measured by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) as the number of prisoners held in a cell, cubicle or room in which the number of occupants exceeds the uncrowded capacity. For example, this means that two prisoners held in a single occupancy cell, or three prisoners held in a cell designed for two, are said to be crowded. The prevalence of crowding based on this measure has remained relatively stable since 2003/04, with between 24 and 26 percent of prisoners held in crowded conditions. Crowding is also assessed by comparing a prison’s ‘certified normal accommodation’ against its actual population. At 30 June 2017, 75 out of 116 prisons (or 65 percent) listed in the MOJ’s Population Bulletin: Monthly June 2017, were operating with crowded conditions, based on its population exceeding its in use certified normal accommodation. The prison population has approximately doubled since 1980.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, has raised concerns over the extent of crowding in prisons. The Inspectorate’s Annual Report 2016/17 stated that overcrowding continued to be a major problem. It described overcrowding as being a significant issue in 56 percent of the prisons the Inspectorate reported on in 2015/16.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, has raised concerns over the extent of crowding in prisons. The Inspectorate’s Annual Report 2016/17 stated that overcrowding continued to be a major problem. It described overcrowding as being a significant issue in 56 percent of the prisons the Inspectorate reported on in 2015/16.

In November 2016, the Government published a prison safety and reform white paper. In it, the Government said that it would create a reformed prison estate that would be less crowded, better organised, more effective and comprise modern accommodation. The Prisons and Courts Bill 2016–17, was introduced in the House of Commons on 23 February 2017 and had its second reading on 20 March 2017. The Bill did not progress beyond its fifth day of committee in the House of Commons due to the 2017 general election. The Bill sought to make provisions in a range of areas including prisons, and the practice and procedures in courts and tribunals. In a debate on safety in prisons and youth custody centres on 19 July 2017 (following the publication of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report 2016–17), Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate General for Scotland, stated in relation to the Prisons and Courts Bill, that the Government was still committed to the provisions of the white paper, many of which it said could be implemented without the need for primary legislation. On 22 March 2017, Elizabeth Truss, then Secretary of State for Justice, had announced that the Government had submitted planning applications for four new prisons which would create 5,000 prison places.

Lords Library notes LLN-2017-0049

Author: Charley Coleman

Topic: Prisons

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