Thursday 29 February 2024

Prison Population to Rocket

I notice the latest prison population projections have been published today:-

Prison Population Projections 2023 to 2028, England and Wales 

This bulletin presents prison population projections for England and Wales from December 2023 to March 2028. It is produced to aid policy development, capacity planning and resource allocation within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).

The prison population is projected to increase to between 94,600 and 114,800 by March 2028, with a central estimate of 105,800. This projected long-term increase is predicated on several factors, including continued growth in police charging and prosecutorial activity and falling Crown Court outstanding caseloads (both of which could increase inflows into the prison system and in turn the prison population), and changes in sentencing policy and behaviour to keep the most serious offenders in prison for longer.


This bulletin presents prison population projections for England and Wales from December 2023 to March 2028. It is produced to aid policy development, capacity planning and resource allocation within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The latest published useable operational capacity (23rd February 2024) is 89,041.. 

The projections are produced using a model of flows of offenders into and out of prison which estimates the resulting prison population each month. A key driver for future prison population (and a major source of uncertainty for these projections) is the volume and composition of cases entering the criminal courts, i.e. upstream demand. To illustrate the impact of these upstream demand assumptions, three plausible scenarios have been agreed between the MoJ, the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, and this publication presents the prison population projection as a range based on these scenarios. The projected prison population range presented here only estimates the impact of differing upstream demand assumptions and therefore does not represent the full range of uncertainty surrounding the projections. All three scenarios are presented from December 2023 to March 2028 and are considered to be plausible outcomes of the growth of the prison population over the next five years. This differs from the previous publication which only presented the central scenario over a three-year horizon. 

Alongside incoming demand, the size of the prison population over 2023 to 2028 is also expected to increase due to courts addressing growth in the outstanding caseload that has been seen since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns restricted the courts’ ability to process cases through 2020 and 2021 and the Criminal Bar Association disruptive action between April and October 2022 also affected court proceedings, leading to further growth in the outstanding caseload. Over the first three quarters of 2023, Crown Court disposal volumes increased but remained below receipts, meaning the outstanding caseload continued to increase. 

The projections also incorporate the estimated impacts of agreed sentencing policies, including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and the Release of Prisoners Order 20205 which include provisions to increase custody time for violent and sexual offenders sentenced to a standard determinate sentence of 4 to 7 years and over 7 years, respectively.

Since there is considerable uncertainty around the assumptions in these areas, the prison population will likely differ from what has been projected – there is a more detailed discussion regarding uncertainty in Section 2.


Do we really want to continue down this path? I notice the Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons suggests we need to change the narrative. That sounds like a good idea:- 

Bishop Rachel speaks out on sentencing

As we venture towards a General Election at some time this year, the prison population is approaching 90,000 underpinned by a rhetoric across the political spectrum of ‘being tough on crime’. The common narrative is that locking more people up and for longer will result in stronger and safer communities. The evidence does not support this, and rates of reoffending are prolific. So, as Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons in England and Wales I am determined to be part of the solution.

Prison costs in the region of 50K per person per year, and the social and economic cost of reoffending is estimated at £18 billion per annum, thus our current system makes no sense, even if you only care about money. It is not prisons which need expanding but rather our imaginations and public understanding.

The approach to so much in society fails to start with vision, and instead focuses on short term fixes for presenting issues. This is certainly true regarding criminal justice and prisons. Yet it is only when we paint a vision of the sort of society we want to see that we will begin to respond appropriately.

As a Christian I hold fast to hope in the transforming work of God revealed in Jesus Christ, at the heart of which is the fulfillment of a vision of restored relationship. It is about the flourishing of humanity and all creation, and that is a common theme within different faiths and expressed in the longings of many people regardless of whether they are people of faith or not.

Prisons offer a window onto so much which is broken in our society. Broken relationship is evident across every aspect of our criminal justice system, not least fractured relationships in the lives of offenders, often from an early age, and the fractured lives and communities impacted by crime. Yet, prisons also have the potential to provoke us into shaping a vision for the future.

Over 40% of those in prison were expelled or excluded from school; almost 25% of adults in prison have previously been in care, rising to nearly 50% of all under 21-year-olds in contact with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, it is estimated that 300,000 children a year have a parent in prison, and of those over half of boys go on to commit an offence. These are just a few of the stark statistics which reflect our failure to create a criminal justice system which focuses on relationship and which looks both upstream and downstream with a commitment to taking a long-term view, holding before us a vision of restoration and transformation in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

Against this backdrop of a commitment to a different future, I convened a roundtable discussion in Westminster in November 2023 comprised of experts from the field of criminal justice, including academics, MPs and Peers, CEOs of leading organisations, and those with lived experience of prison. Under Chatham House rules we sought to identify some significant steps towards prison reform. The intention is to further conversations and action in our different spheres of influence, including the vital need for clarity, not least among wider society, as to what prison is for.

If we truly want safer and stronger communities, including respect and care for victims of crime (noting that offenders are also often victims), then punishment can only ever be part of the picture. Rehabilitation and purposeful training and activity must be a major focus within prisons, and continue beyond the prison gate. These points have been repeatedly made by Charlie Taylor, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and one of the roundtable participants.

Furthermore, given that prison staff have the potential to shape a rehabilitative and relational culture when led by an inspiring and motivated Governor, it is shocking that they are undervalued, with initial training being a matter of weeks with negligible investment in further development and support. There is much which could be gleaned from the innovative ‘Unlocked Graduates’ programme whose CEO, took part in the Westminster discussion.

While crime should never be condoned, prison is rarely the only answer to the problem – so, with vision, we would be more courageous in establishing alternatives to the revolving door of prison and the repeated pattern of fractured relationship. Such solutions would include ever-more imaginative community-based initiatives; not using prison as a place to accommodate people with severe mental health problems; and shaping alternative interventions for many whose offending is rooted in drug addiction. With a clear vision we could do better join-up across issues, with a willingness to look upstream and downstream, including the strong shining of light on the importance of enabling offenders to develop and strengthen meaningful and healthy relationships – a point emphasised by another roundtable participant, Lord Farmer, in his 2017 government review on family ties.

The Westminster roundtable agreed this all requires national debate, not least regarding sentencing as recommended in the 2022 Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners, chaired by a previous Bishop for Prisons, The Right Revd James Jones. Indeed, as was highlighted at the roundtable, if there is to be meaningful progress regarding prison reform and using available funds effectively, then we need to work persistently and creatively at changing the public narrative. In 2024 I hope it will be possible to create a groundswell across a diversity of media outlets and public figures willing to influence the debate and be part of that drive to expand our imaginations while resisting the expansion of prisons and the prison population.

The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons in England and Wales


  1. Subjecting everyone that leaves prison to at least 12mths post custody supervision is a surefire way of keeping the prison population growing.
    Recall rates are far too high.

    Interesting article from inside time, quite relevent as Pearly Gates make an exit.


    1. Inspectors highlight inexperience of staff in justice system

      The criminal justice system continues to fail because of widespread problems with hiring and keeping experienced employees, says a joint report by the four inspectorates covering prisons, probation, police, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

      The Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (CJJI) report said it hoped to see improvements in dealing with the Covid fallout. However, its latest assessment finds the main issue is no longer vacancies but inexperience of those now employed. This creates additional pressure within “an already overloaded system adding to delay and reduced capability.”

      According to the report, all agencies are “working to address the issue of inexperience while maintaining or improving levels of service, but the challenge is to retain existing staff”.

      The inspectors found high levels of inexperience across all areas, piling pressure on existing staff. Supervisors struggled to provide support, while trainers suffered additional stress. For instance, by 2024, 38 per cent of police officers will have under five years’ experience; all other sectors also have an overabundance of new staff, which is why hoped-for efficiency improvements have not happened.

      Andrew Cayley KC, Chair of the CJJI, said: “An effective criminal justice system relies on each agency having a sufficient number of staff, with the experience and skill sets. While we have seen each criminal justice agency respond positively to the pandemic and boosting their numbers, they have also lost experienced staff who cannot be easily replaced.

      “To turn this around and deliver positive outcomes we call on the police, CPS, prisons and probation service to better understand why staff are leaving and review outputs to guarantee better staff supervision and support.”

      Responding, the Ministry of Justice said: “As a direct result of boosting starting pay for prison officers to over £30,000 and launching our biggest ever recruitment campaign, staffing and retention numbers are improving, with an extra 1,400 prison officers in place since last year and 750 additional probation officers.”

      The National Police Chiefs Council said: “Policing is a rewarding but tough career. We know if you are going to leave it is likely to be within the first couple of years, and the number of leavers is around what we anticipated.”

      A spokesperson for the CPS said: “By hiring more legal staff in areas with high numbers of applicants and deploying them to areas with the greatest need, we have been able to respond to demand across the country. We continue recruiting more legal trainees and crown prosecutors.”

  2. Probation was so desperate to recruit staff after messing up training that it handed fresh out of university graduates a job. These were in the main graduates who had low grades and don’t really want to join probation. The prospect of another degree and gaining from the residual status being a probation officer once had was attractive. For many it was too much and they left shortly after training but not before the vast influx of new staff has taken a toll on experienced staff who were obliged to train them up. As a result the quality of work is niched reduced or as I heard one client say recently ‘I used to come to probation and see some old bloke who knew a thing or too about life and helped me a lot but now it’s full of young kids threatening me with jail if I don’t attend and listen to them telling me what’s what when they know nothing. It’s just wrong. The whole system is f***ed’.

    1. Well the bar has dropped a little since the omnishambles. Now it’s more fresh out of college. To become a probation officer you neither need a degree nor will gain a degree. In fact you don’t even need to be university eligible. When you complete the programme, you’ll gain a level 6 Professional Qualification in Probation.

      Graduate programmes – 15 or 21 months:
      To be eligible for the PQiP graduate programme, you need to have a level 5 qualification (or higher).
      diploma of higher education (DipHE)
      foundation degree
      higher national diploma (HND)

      Non Graduate route – 27 months
      If you are applying with a level 3 qualification, you will complete a 27 month programme.
      A level
      AS level
      level 3 NVQ
      T Level
      tech level

    2. … And hardly any decent probation officers to learn from either. I know some of the probation officers are busy and overworked but some are just rude. Always on about their 50 years experience but ask them for help and they ignore you or tell you they’re not here to help. Degree or no degree the new officers are willing to learn. It’s the older ones that are the problem.

    3. 11:22 Am genuinely surprised at your experience and to be honest very disheartened to hear. Obviously all situations differ, but I can't help feeling you've drawn a short straw. Maybe find some way to seek support from more obliging officers in some way or other.

    4. We would help more- but most of us are exhausted with the workload we have. Whilst I try and help and mentor, it's management who are giving us more responsibility, often without putting the reduction on the WMT. All that work is voluntary. It's not part of our contract. It's the probation service expecting us to do more for less and then managers blame us for when a case is not managed to the best standards. They have too few SPOs, PTAs seem to be non-existent and we're banjaxed with high caseloads and long hours. It's really the culture of the service that's to blame. You ask to shadow or what have you and it's tiring. Having said that because of high profile cases such as McSweeney has meant that POPs and PQIPS can't even take some C_2 cases with any complexity- giving us even more work and when it comes to high risk co-working, they are often adrift, with only a few months to go to finishing the PQIP. They will likely struggle as NQOs.The whole system needs radical change but it needs staff- not very overworked existing POs used as substitute SPO management. I was bulled as a PQIP despite the nonsense about this being preventable and I was often ignored- seems to be a right of passage. I don't do that with new staff- I try and nurture and support, but I'm bloody exhausted. And, yes, some older staff are very rude- again, this seems ingrained in the culture. But you want to keep your head down and get on with it. I remonstrated about my treatment and was never spoken to again by two colleagues.Lots of poo housery goes on in Probation. Empathy and compassion are not often used amongst colleagues, but is drummed into us when seeing POPs. Just another strange contradiction in the crumbling world of Probation, which is dictated to by Prisons despite their not being in a great state either. I'm HMPPS, I'm HMPPS, I know am, I'm sure I am, I'm HMPPS- to paraphrase a well know TV series from the 1970s.

    5. 11.22 I am sorry this is your experience. My office is lucky we have a few experienced POs but greatly experienced or newly qualified, without exception, I have found everyone in my office helpful and kind despite being massively under pressure and over capacity. I'm sorry this hasn't been the same for you.


    6. Being a pqip is a lonely place unless you’re part of the in crowd or don’t mind being bullied by POs. It’s the culture in my pdu. I recently asked a PO for help. The reply “why you asking me, can’t you see I’m busy”. The same PO came to me the next day to point out something they thought I did wrong. I was so embarrassed as I was with a pop. This is the daily behaviour in my office. Other POs routinely tell their SPOs when asked to cover duty work “can’t the pqips and pso’s do it”. Then we’re made to. When I objected to this I was ostracised by the PO and SPO clique. Now the same SPOs have told pqips they can’t park in the car park. It just gets worse.

    7. 07:13 “And, yes, some older staff are very rude- again, this seems ingrained in the culture. But you want to keep your head down and get on with it.”

      It’s like this in many offices.

    8. Probation isn’t going to be sorted out anytime soon. They have gone for low hanging fruit by recruiting young female graduates rather than individuals (male or female) who have life experience. The job is not glamorous and without general appeal. It has been under attack as a profession both from psychologists and the civil service with criminology given a minor role. The recruitment net has mostly dragged in the wrong type of fish but there are a few with potential. There is a big problem group of millennials who thing older more experienced officers are toddlers who should retire asap. I don’t think anyone can blame the old guard for being defensive as they have been put upon time after time and many have been at the top of the salary range for decades seeing the main grade job degraded and perks we used to have such as lease cars, lower caseloads, and professional development opportunities become the stuff of myth. The job now mainly involves sitting in a poorly equipped airless office typing information into shoddy IT systems with the occasional irritating interruptions by people on the probation conveyor belt. The skill in the job is all but gone replaced by endless regulation designed to take away any professional judgement or autonomy. You should hear some of the newly qualified officers berating those who have been in the job for decades when they know nothing about life let alone probation work. In years gone by they would have been PSOs and supporting POs but now they think they know it all because they can whizz around computer systems and love filling in forms. Doing assessments is a bit trickier. There are also loads of administrators that no one really knows what they do half the time. There is no penalty for their failure or incompetence as bodies are in short supply and those that would previously be sacked are allowed to cruise along apparently believing the crap work they are doing is good enough - few experienced people to say otherwise. Most of the smarter POs have decamped long ago and would never be tempted back to the meat grinder. All the PR and flashy videos are peddling lies. It is dirty work now done extremely badly by the majority being propped up by the hard pressed few who refuse to quit. It is the few that I support and are keeping the flame alive for a better probation service.

  3. I see we have a new Chief Inspector Martin Jones, previously CEO of the parole board. Three year term, so we have three years ahead of "must try harder" reports and a final report "this doesnt work, needs root and branch reform"

    1. Martin Jones CBE joins HM Inspectorate of Probation as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector

      Martin Jones CBE has today (01 March 2024) joined the HM Inspectorate of Probation as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector.

      He will serve as the independent inspector of probation and youth justice services in England and Wales, offering independent scrutiny of the quality of work undertaken to seek to improve outcomes for individuals and communities.

      Appointed by The Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon. Alex Chalk KC MP for a three-year term, Mr Jones joins the Inspectorate after nine years in his role as Chief Executive of the Parole Board.

      At the Parole Board, Mr Jones was awarded a CBE for services to victims, transparency and diversity in the parole system. Prior to that he served as Deputy Director for Sentencing Policy from 2012 to 2015 and as Head of Crime for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service from 2008 to 2011.

      He will be taking over from the interim Chief Inspector, Sue McAllister, who has been leading the Inspectorate since October 2023.

      Mr Jones said: “I look forward to leading the Inspectorate’s work with probation and youth justice services across England and Wales, in our mission to promote excellence and change lives for the better.

      “I am taking up this role at a challenging time for the sector, with the aim of delivering insight and stability for the services we work with. We set a high bar, with the aim of keeping more individuals and communities safe and supported, and it is more important than ever that we play our part in ensuring those services can improve and thrive.”

  4. Good words from the Bish. It must have been something like this in the minds of those early Court Missionaries who founded the Probation Service. Are we really going to have to start from the very beginning?
    He says, “we need to work persistently and creatively at changing the public narrative”. Indeed, we do, but the challenge is extraordinary in the current climate of hatred and division. Where we have the grim spectacle of a government spewing its bilious propaganda that we are being overrun by foreigners, mobs, terrorists, thieves and murderers with the solution being to ramp up incarceration. That every poor soul banged up in our chaotic and overflowing prison estate poses an existential threat to society, and are not in fact, citizens of our society. And simultaneously, if more discreetly, attempting to install early release at the other end, to free up space to meet the grim demand of their creation.
    As Russell Webster concludes in his piece on the rising prison population “despite being the country which imprisons the greatest proportion of our citizens in Western Europe, we seem doubly determined that the only way to tackle crime (which has dropped significantly over the past 20 years) is to lock up more and more people.
    Every extra billion pounds spent on prisons removes the equivalent amount from our ailing health, social care and education services.”

  5. Probation will be under even more pressure come April when changes come in mandating fixed term recalls for those sentenced to less than 12 months. How can we manage risk and protect the public when the government introduces ill thought out and rushed through changes?

    The new changes mandate fixed term recalls for the majority of adult offenders who have sentences of less than 12 months meaning probation can only recall those people for maximum 14 days and then they will be released. That really isn't worth the effort of recall paperwork!!

    1. I agree. It's a complete nonsense. It doesn't do anything to reduce offending or advance public protection. All it does is put the prisoner back to square one with the same issues they had on their original release. At best it's warehousing the problem, at worst it's purely punitive just like a prison governor awarding a prisoner 14 days in the block on adjudication.
      It's doing nothing to reduce the prison population, it will only help to increase it.
      The universal supervision of the 12mths and under was part of the TR disaster . It needs to go the same way as TR now and be put in the rubbish bin.

      As an aside I watched Jeremy Hunt this morning suggesting he wanted to see the civil service being cut back.
      He might like to consider moving probation from HMPPS? That would cut the civil service by thousands.


    2. The problem isn’t whether this will work or not. The problem is there is literally nobody in probation that challenges these dumb changes to policies. The government and its idiotic justice ministers can implement literally ANY change to probation and everyone just accepts it. What is the point of probation senior managers, unions and institutes if they have no say in what the work of probation officers actually is.

    3. 14:48 The fact is that those who have spent time criticising and persuading people to leave or not support both the unions and the probation institute that both try to promote the interests of probation have reduced their power to challenge and change matters. The unions are now so diminished that they cannot even field enough representatives to attend all the meetings with HMPPS. The only way to increase pressure on the employers to get what we want is total union membership and support the institute as well. Instead of telling the new recruits to go away we should be saying “go join the union then we can talk”. If the union is strong their voice will be stronger and we can get out of the civil service stranglehold and become a localised service again. Just see where withdrawing support for our union and turning our back on our institute has got us.

  6. I don't know of Martin Jones CBE the new Chief Inspector of Probation but urge him to be as brave and unflinching as David Neal the former Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration. David Neal was sacked by the Government last week for criticising the lamentable lack of progress made by the Home Office. After over a year of delays the Government finally published 13 of his last 15 critical reports and then sacked him. Speaking truth to power is a risky business.

  7. Want to read a transcript of sunak's speech from 1 March?

    Go here:

    But be aware that the govt have redacted much of the speech

    "Please note: Political content has been redacted from this transcript."

    So the unelected PM of the UK scares the living shit out of much of the population with an unannounced lecture on imaginary extremism from 10 Downing St, then has his speech officially redacted to cover his tracks.

  8. bin doin some trawlin of csw:

    "The probation watchdog has called for an independent review of the “struggling” Probation Service to determine whether it should be brought back under local control – two years after major reforms to renationalise private services."

    Plenty of choice here: