DDN_April_2024 DDN April 2024 | Page 6

The Ministry of Justice is projecting a sizeable growth in the prison population over the next few years , while also signalling a shift away from shorter sentences . Could a public health approach finally be on the horizon ?


At the end of February , the Ministry of Justice ( MoJ ) published its updated projections for the prison population in England and Wales . The number of prisoners is set to increase to ‘ between 94,600 and 114,800 by March 2028 , with a central estimate of 105,800 ’, it says – last year it was less than 84,000 . This huge increase is

‘ predicated on several factors ’,
says MoJ , including changes in sentencing policy and courts working through their case backlogs . The projections may seem surprising given lord chancellor Alex Chalk ’ s announcement last October that the government intended to legislate for a ‘ presumption against prison sentences of less than 12 months ’ – to be replaced by community sentences , alongside better access to drug treatment and mental health services .
However the government also intends to ‘ put the worst offenders away for longer ’ – as part of an overall strategy to make the best use of prisons and give lower-risk offenders the ‘ greatest chance ’ to turn their lives around . The adult female prison population , meanwhile , stood at 3,611 in November 2023 and is projected to have reached 4,200 by November 2027 , although the MoJ stresses this doesn ’ t include ‘ any future impact ’ of the
government ’ s female offender strategy , which aims to treat custody as a last resort .
HUMAN COST Many commentators have pointed out that the prison system can barely cope with the current numbers , and while criminal justice charity organisation Clinks welcomed the presumption against short sentences and consequent reduction in the ‘ financial and human cost ’ of
Mike Abrahams / Alamy