Get In Touch

Prison Overcrowding in the UK

It has recently been reported that UK Prisons are reaching operational capacity, due to severe overcrowding. Prisons such as HMP Wandsworth, HMP Oakwood and HMP Leeds, are listed as the top 3 prisons to reach numbers way above their capacity. However, this isn’t anything new. Reports from the UK parliament website dating back to May 2019, stated that 72 prisons were operating above their Certified Normal Accommodation limit (CNA).

What is the difference between a CNA and Operational Capacity?

A Certified Normal Accommodation limit also known as a CNA, is a term used by the Prison Service to determine the amount of accommodation they can reach whilst offering a good uncrowded standard for prisoners.

Moreover, an Operational Capacity is focused more on the number of prisoners a prison can safely hold, whilst implementing security and control. If the number of prisoners surpass the CNA and operational capacity, then a prison will officially be regarded as overcrowded.

In July 2010, 16 prisons in the UK were already deemed as over their capacity. So where does this leave us now you may ask?

As of June 2023, the UK Prison Population Statistics stated a total prison population of approx. 95,526 prisoners. In the last 20 years we experienced a 92% rise in the prison population.

In light of Daniel Khalife escaping from Wandsworth prison, in September 2023, this highlighted the severe issues of lack of security and control caused by a prisons transcending their operational capacity.

It has become a known fact that prison conditions are becoming progressively worse due to overcrowding, budget cuts and lack of staff.

What is the cause to overcrowded prisons?

Following on from the horrific case of Jamie Bulger in 1993, there was the start of what was labelled as ‘moral panic’ whereby the government subsequently enforced longer and more stringent sentences causing a substantial growth in the prison population.

Furthermore, there’s no denying that the Covid-19 March 2020 Pandemic, also played a significant role towards the current overcrowding of prisons.

With a pause in criminal cases at court and people essentially being in lockdown, the number of prisoners temporarily reduced. However post lockdown, the courts suffered with a tremendous amount of backlogged cases, causing an influx in sentence hearings and prisoners.

The barrister’s strike of October 2022 soon followed, which meant prisoners hearing dates were further postponed to later dates. In some instances prisoners were remanded for long periods of time before having their case heard in court.

What are the government’s plans going forward?

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk stated 4 key points in the House of Commons on 16 October 2023, with regard to tackling prison overcrowding;

  1. Plans on releasing prisoners who are currently serving fixed sentences and instead releasing them on licence with conditions such as wearing an electronic tag, or other conditions implemented by probation services. However ‘It will not be used for prisoners convicted of an offence of serious violence, a terrorism offence, or a sexual offence.’
  2. Sentencing of less than 12 months to be suspended, which will result in less prisoners, provided no further crimes are committed in the suspended time frame.
  3. New prison places will be build as the government will spend up to £400 million on new places for prisons.
  4. Removal of any foreign offender, which may include some foreign prisoners being removed early from UK prisons in order to be sent home country to serve their time there.

If you or a family member are facing the reality or prospect of a term of imprisonment, contact one of our criminal defence experts for legal advice. Call 0330 822 3451 or request a call back online.

Further Reading Crime