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03 October 2023

PRT comment: Alex Chalk’s speech to Conservative Party Conference

Reacting to the speech by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, this afternoon at the Conservative Party Conference and plans to rent spaces in foreign prisons, Pia Sinha, Chief Executive of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The government’s response to dangerous and growing levels of overcrowding in our prisons is a half-baked idea to rent foreign prison places. Prison leaders will be in despair at such a superficial response to their very real and urgent concerns. The red warning light of a looming capacity crisis has been flashing on the prison service dashboard for a number of months. Ministers can’t say they haven’t been warned. They urgently need to bring forward practical plans to reduce pressure on the system, including the executive release of some prisoners. The risks of not doing so are too perilous to ignore.”

The Ministry of Justice has predicted that the prison population in England and Wales will rise to 94,400 by March 2025. In the longer term, they predict that it could reach as high as 106,300 by March 2027. This projected increase in the prison population is due to a rise in the number of police officers—which could increase the number of people charged of offences; and changes in sentencing policy which are leading to people being held in prison for longer.

The government had planned to build an additional 20,000 prison places by the mid-2020s to meet this increased demand. However, it was reported last week that these plans won’t be completed until 2030.

In June, the government admitted that, even if all of the government’s planned capacity projects were delivered on time, there would still be a short fall of 2,300 prison places by March 2025.

The prison system is already under emergency measures with 400 police cells put on permanent standby to hold remanded or sentenced prisoners.

Nearly 10,700 prison places have been closed since 2010—many of them old and/or dilapidated. At the same time, nearly 11,000 places have been created, a net increase of just 300 prison places.

The prison population in England and Wales reached 87,793 people on Friday 29 September—a 7% increase since the start of the year—nearly 5,600 more people. Meanwhile, useable capacity across the whole estate stood at 88,561. However, it is understood that capacity within the adult male prison estate is especially acute, with reports suggesting that there are just 258 places remaining.