The Memo: UK prison population rises to over 88,000

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UK prison population rises to over 88,000: Where do the criminals go now?

Chelsey Stanborough – 13 November 2023

The UK prison population has grown to more than 88,000 – almost 10,000 more than it was two years ago. As the prisons reach their capacity, the senior presiding judge Lord Justice Edis has provided guidance for senior court judges on how to tackle the growing problem. Among the suggestions was advising that court judges impose suspended sentences for offences with shorter terms. This population is made up of those who have been bailed during the process having been identified as low risk. Further measures introduced include Operation Safeguard, which repurposed 400 police cells to hold overflow inmates. There have even been talks around renting prison cells in other countries to help ease the burden.

One of the main criticisms of the announcement centres around the worry over who will be bailed. Defendants of historical rape or rape of a child (and other sexual assault cases) are now likely to remain on bail. Judges have voiced their worries about sending perpetrators free and how the victims of these crimes will feel. Instead of spending time in prisons – it is argued - offenders could be providing community services such as cleaning in their communities. 

Earlier this year, it was found that 70% of rape victims are dropping their cases before they reach the court, some of which was put down to the tripling of cases awaiting trial. The case even reached parliament, as members pushed for a response to a problem that shows few signs of slowing down. Now, according to recent figures, victims have been waiting as long as 266 days for perpetrators to be brought to justice. The government's Rape Action Plan is set to be reviewed in 2025, but with the latest concerns surrounding overcrowding prisons, senior judges are pushing for a quicker response.


If you're interested:

18 September - Glyn Razzell: When are murderers refused parole?

28 August - Legal Aid Funding: What is the Future of Prison Law?