Police recruitment drive will push 20,000 more criminals into jail, Ministry of Justice says

Charles Hymas
HMP Armley, Leeds
HMP Armley, Leeds

The police recruitment drive will see 20,000 more criminals locked up in prisons by 2026, pushing the jail population to an all-time high, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

An MoJ study projected that the number of prisoners in England and Wales will rise from the current 78,800 to 98,700, largely because of the Government's planned recruitment of an extra 20,000 police officers.

This would be the highest number of people held in jails since 2012, when it stood at 86,600, and nearly double the rate of the mid-1990s, when it hovered around 50,000.

The increase will also be fuelled by Boris Johnson's tougher sentences, which will see the most violent and serious criminals spending longer behind bars.

Britain already jails more people per head of population than any other country in western Europe, with 132 inmates per 100,000. That also puts it ahead even of China, Zimbabwe and Egypt.

The study was published less than 24 hours after Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, announced a £4 billion prison building programme to create an extra 18,000 prison places over the next five years.

The MoJ researchers said the increase in prison numbers was "predominantly because of the recruitment of 20,000 additional police officers, which is likely to increase charge volumes and therefore increase the future prison population".

The study found that "the impact on prison places is expected to increase continuously up until the end of the projection period in September 2026" and the Prime Minister’s overhaul of sentencing would also have an impact by increasing the number of longer-term prisoners.

The MoJ's new sentencing white paper proposes changes that would force sexual and violent criminals to spend longer in prison, allow whole life orders for under-21s and child killers and stop the automatic release of inmates who may be dangerous.

The projections come as charging rates by police have plummeted in the past five years, from 15 per cent of crimes solved to just seven per cent. At the same time, there has been a sharp increase in knife crime to a record high

Police chiefs and unions have blamed the cuts of 22,000 officers since 2012 for the decline, an argument disputed by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. She denied that rising crime rates were linked to reductions in police numbers.

The prison population remained static during the pre-war years at between 10,000 and 20,000 and only started to increase steadily after the Second World War.

From 14,700 in 1945, it climbed to pass 30,000 in 1962 before reaching 40,000 in the 1970s. It breached the 50,000 mark in 1995, climbing steadily during the "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" Blair-Brown years from 61,000 to 85,000.