Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: The Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile Autumn 2018

10th December 2018

The Prison Reform Trust (UK) has published the latest edition of the Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile for Autumn 2018. The Bromley Briefings look at the UK prison system, highlighting latest prison-related figures, and giving an overview on issues such as healthcare in prison, prison conditions, rehabilitation and resettlement, and the people in the prison system.

The high numbers of life-sentenced prisoners is highlighted in this year’s report. There are 8554 people in UK prisons serving a life sentence, the highest number in Europe. Life-sentenced prisoners make up more than 10% of the UK prison population.

The UK is the country in Europe with the highest proportion, 13 per 100,000, of its citizens serving life sentences. This compares with figures of 0.7 per 100,000 in France and 2.3 per 100,000 in Germany.

Life sentences in England and Wales can also be combined with a whole life order, meaning that there is no minimum period of detention set and the expectation is that the person will spend the rest of their life in prison. The number of people on such orders has increased from zero in 1982 to 63 in 2018.

The use of life sentences, and other forms of indeterminate sentences has had a significant effect on the rising prison population in the UK. The fairness and proportionality of their use has also been questioned.

A number of reasons are given as to why the numbers of life-sentenced prisoners are so high in the UK, including:

  • Life imprisonment is mandatory for murder in the UK, and this is not the case for most European countries;
  • Discretionary life imprisonment can be imposed for a wider range of offences than in any other European country;
  • The minimum term that life-sentenced prisoners have to serve in the UK before their release is considered is long, and still increasing.
  • In the past, UK created another form of indeterminate sentencing, the indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP). Although this sentence was abolished in 2012, there are still 2,598 people currently in prison serving an IPP, and 89% of these prisoners have passed their original tariff expiry date

Other Key Facts from the Briefing:

  • The UK has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe (143 per 100,000 in Scotland, and 141 per 100,000 in England and Wales).
  • The prison population has fallen in the last two year after rising by 70% in the last 30 years. On November 23rd 2018 the prison population stood at 82,888.
  • Over three times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more in prison in the 12 months to June 2018 compared with the same period a decade ago.
  • The number of people, particularly women, being recalled to custody has risen; 8911 people serving a sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison in the year to June 2018.
  • The rate of deaths in prisons have almost doubled in the last 10 years; 325 people died in prison in the year to September 2018.
  • Rates of self-harm in prison are at the highest levels ever recorded, with women accounting for almost a fifth of all self-harm incidents in prison despite making up on 5% of the prison population.
  • The number of frontline prison staff has been cut by 26% in the period 2010-2017. Staff experience has also declined; 40% of officers in 2018 had less than 3 years’ experience, compared with 13% of officers in 2010.
  • Two-thirds of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded in the year 2017-2018, with nearly one-quarter of the prison population being held in overcrowded conditions.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of people in prison with a disability reported feeling unsafe. Nearly half (49%) said they’d been victimised by other prisoners and 40% said they had been victimised by staff.

The Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile can be read in full on the Prison Reform Trust website.

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