Overcrowding in Prisons across England and Wales

Posted: 16 November 2023

In October 2023, the Justice secretary announced a greater population within the prison system across England and Wales. This has led to overcrowding and a current record of approximately 88,225 people who are remanded or serving their custodial sentences. This is likely to increase to more than 93,100 by March 2027.

In light of these statistics, the government has made an announcement that in their view will reduce and ease the implications that this is causing, which is mainly overcrowding.  They have proposed a ‘prison building programme’, in order to increase capacity.  This is to support the current Strategy White Paper which they committed to in 2021 to create up to 20,000 additional prison places by the mid 20’s. At present approximately, 5,500 places have been opened since this scheme was implemented.

Prison overcrowding

Why are prisons overcrowded?

There has been continuous court backlog which has been enhanced by both the COVID- 19 Pandemic from 2020 and the Barrister’s Strike in 2022. This has led to approximately 65,000 cases involving serious crimes that are still waiting to be heard in different courts across England and Wales. From June 2023, 15,500 people are still waiting for their cases whilst on remand alone.

In order to deal with the demand, the government have been looking at the following options that have been considered carefully.

Early release on licence:

It was announced that the government would allow people to be released from prison up to 18 days before their automatic release date under section 248 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This type of scheme has been used previously in 2007, to resolve overcrowding.

However, it has been expressed that once out on early licence they must still comply with certain conditions imposed by the court. For example, electronic monitoring, not to contact a named individual, attend probation programmes and/or not to enter a specific area.

This scheme will not be used for those who are serving ‘life sentences’, or prisoners convicted of serious violence, sexual offences or terrorism.

Suspended sentences:

The government are looking to legislate that any sentence of less than 12 months in prison will be suspended. This prevents the person from going to prison, provided that they comply with all requirements proposed by the court. This has been proposed due to the evidence found that people who serve suspended sentences have been less likely to commit further offences than those who serve short term prison sentences. Therefore, considering rehabilitation as well as the issue of overcrowding.

Other funding sources:

The government have further announced that they will be spending up to £400 million for more prison places to deal with the overcrowding. They have commissioned urgent work following the requests for a change to be made, and they are looking to identify new sites to be purchased for further buildings.

These are all measures that are under consideration and planning by the government surrounding the issue of overcrowding. These have also been addressed by organisations such as Prison Reform Trust and Howard League for Penal Reform, who in particular have prepared a 10- point plan to address the issues and provide a possible resolution.

If you require help and advice in these areas contact our Criminal Defence Team  at our Chelmsford, BraintreeIpswich or Benfleet office call 01376 559690 or send an email

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