More people are being sent to prison in England and Wales every year than anywhere else in western Europe, figures branded as “shameful” have suggested.
The rate of people being sent to prison in England and Wales is around twice as high as Germany and roughly three times that of Italy and Spain, the Prison Reform Trust found.
This amounted to more than 140,000 admissions into prison in England and Wales in 2017, the most recent year data is available for.
The trust’s analysis suggests there are nearly 240 prison admissions for every 100,000 people in the England and Wales each year.
It blamed an “addiction to imprisonment”, marked by the overuse of short prison sentences and growing use of long terms, and botched probation reforms.
Planned measures to limit the use of short sentences and correcting failed reforms to probation are both steps in the right direction. But our shamefully high prison population rates won’t be solved by these alone — a public debate about how we punish the most serious crime is overdue
The trust’s analysis, which used the latest available Council of Europe annual penal statistics, also showed:
– At more than at 82,400, the prison population in England and Wales is nearly 70% higher than three decades ago.
– Each year England and Wales had over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, which has a significantly larger national population.
– Scotland had the highest prison population rate per head, with 150 people held in prison for every 100,000 of the population, while England and Wales have 139 and Northern Ireland 76.
– More than two-thirds (81 out of 120) of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded.
The trust’s director, Peter Dawson, said: “These figures show the scale of the challenge that we face in breaking our addiction to imprisonment.
“Planned measures to limit the use of short sentences and correcting failed reforms to probation are both steps in the right direction.
“But our shamefully high prison population rates won’t be solved by these alone — a public debate about how we punish the most serious crime is overdue.”
The trust’s report says almost half (46%) of people sentenced to prison in England and Wales in 2018 were sentenced to serve six months or less.
Meanwhile, more than two-and-a-half times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more in 2018 than in 2006, despite levels of serious crime being “substantially” lower.
England and Wales also have the highest number of indeterminate prisoners (9,441) in western Europe, the report says.
The figure is so high it is said to be more than Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland, Netherlands and Scandinavia combined.
The report also found more than 7,000 people are currently in prison as a result of being recalled from licence, compared to around 150 in 1995.
Justice Secretary David Gauke is considering whether to follow Scotland’s lead in adopting a presumption against short sentences in England and Wales.
He told the Commons earlier this month that it is already the case that custodial measures are something “that should only be pursued as a last resort”, but said his department is “seeing if we can go further than that”.
He added that he hopes to expand on his proposals “in the very near future”.
The Government announced earlier this year that supervision of all offenders in England and Wales was being brought back in-house after a failed attempt to part-privatise probation services.
The overhaul, introduced in 2014 under then justice secretary Chris Grayling, was designed to drive down re-offending but was heavily criticised by MPs and regulators.