Impact of current developments
on the future prison population
109. An effective strategy for rehabilitation of
prisoners must take account of the likely future size of the prison
population. Pressure of numbers, and the consequent increase in
transfers between prisons, makes it more difficult to provide
prisoners with appropriate assistance with literacy, numeracy,
and employment and other life skills. The recent developments
outlined in previous pagesin particular the implementation
of the Carter Report and sentencing reformswill have an
impact on the future size of the prison population.
110. In December 2002 the Home Office issued estimates
for the prison population as it will be in June 2009. These ranged
from 91,400 to 109,600.
The projections were based on a range of sentencing scenarios
and assumptions about the impact of policy changes, including
custody rate (the proportion of those found guilty by a court
who receive a prison sentence), average sentence lengths and the
number of cases passing through the courts.
111. The analysis in the Carter Report, published
in December 2003, suggested that, current trends continued, by
the end of the present decade there would be a prison population
of some 93,000, with a further 300,000 people under community
Government in their response to the Carter Report, published in
January 2004, argued that the various proposed reforms would
"check the projected increase in the numbers in custody (80,000
by 2009 rather than 93,000 as currently projected) and under supervision
in the community (240,000 rather than 300,000)".
112. We asked the Home Office to supply details of
the assumptions on which these latest projections were based.
In reply, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Prisons and Reducing
Re-offending, Mr Paul Goggins MP, stated that the figure of 80,000
was arrived at by taking the previous projection of 93,000 as
a starting point.
This figure was then modified according to the results of a model
developed by the Carter review team "to facilitate the analysis
of sentencing practice and to determine the volume and cost implications
of changes to that practice". The Carter team had used the
model "to work through several different scenarios based
on different treatment of offenders depending on the seriousness
of the offence and the approximate risk of re-offending".
In arriving at its revised project of the future prison population,
the Home Office used the "main Carter scenario", which
envisaged six changes to present practice:
- The use of pre-court diversions for minor offenders
- Fines rebuilt as a credible punishment (reversing
the decline in recent years in the use of fines)
- More focused use of community sentences
- Reservation of custody for the most serious offenders
- Changes in custodial sentence lengths
- Intensive bail packages to reduce remand.
113. This modelling revealed the following projected
outcomes by 2009:
Measures which serve to increase the prison population:
- more prisoners due to tougher fine enforcement
- more due to additional community breaches
Measures which serve to decrease the prison population:
- fewer due to fewer custodial sentences
- fewer due to changes in sentence lengths
- fewer due to new remand packages.
The overall effect was therefore a reduction of 8,645
places compared to the projected population. Further account
was taken of "increased flows by 2009 [and] the impact of
changes in sentencing behaviour over the period" to arrive
at the projection of a prison population of 80,000 by 2009.
114. We asked the Home Office to supply details of
the other scenarios which were produced by the Carter inquiry.
In response, they told us that the main alternative scenario was
a 'heavy custody' model, based on an assumption of increasing
use of custody and less use of fines and probation. The outcome
of this projection was an extra 8,000 prison places, 17,000 fewer
fines, a reduction of 8,000 in the probation caseload and 3,000
fewer discharges. There was "no evidence of benefits to offset
the extra cost of the prison places."
115. The Home Office calculates that by 2009 the
prison population will match the prison capacity expected to be
available at that time, which is also planned to be about 80,000
(as against a present capacity of about 77,000). However, a revised
projection of the future prison population is expected to be published
in January 2005. 
116. The increase in capacity reflects investment
in prison-building over the past ten years. Since 1995, over 15,200
additional prison places have been provided at a cost of more
than £2 billion.
In 2002-03, the average annual cost per prisoner was £36,268.
The table below sets out the operating costs for public and private
prisons for the period 2002-05.
|Public prisons general operating costs
|Private prisons contracts||169
|HQ and area offices
|Non drug treatment regimes (offender behaviour, industries etc)
|Drug treatment regimes||70
|Total Net Resource||2,280
117. The Prison Service reports that it is investing £1.3
billion in the three years up to 2005-06 on buildings and additional
operating capacity, and aims to provide nearly 3,500 additional
places in existing prisons by 2006. A further 1,290 places will
be provided through the new prisons currently under construction
at Ashford and Peterborough.
118. We await the publication of the Home Office's
revised projection of the future prison population. There are
considerable grounds for scepticism about the accuracy of the
present projectionof 80,000 by 2009not least because
it rests on very large assumptions about the net effect of sentencing
changes arising from the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and because
it produces a result in which, conveniently, population exactly
matches capacity. Any prison population above 80,000and
certainly a prison population reaching up from 91,000 to 109,000
as previously projected by the Home Officewould continue
to impose intolerable strains upon the prison regime and prospects
for rehabilitation. In the absence of a fuller statement of its
methodology than the Home Office has been able to supply us with,
there must be a suspicion that the actual calculation may have
been the other way round to what is claimed: i.e. that the Government
started from a basis of the maximum prison population that the
Treasury was willing to pay for, and then adopted sentencing assumptions
which delivered that required total.