UK Prisons: 10 things you should know

1. The UK has the biggest prison population in Western Europe with 95,248 prisoners — annual statistics for 50 European countries show Britain is only behind Russia and Turkey.

2. People aged 60 and over are the fastest-growing age group in the prison estate, with nearly three times as many in prison than 15 years ago — there are high proportions of older prisoners that have a serious illness or disability and many aren’t receiving the necessary care upon their release.

3. 43% of youth offenders aged 15–17 years old are from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds — there is evidence to show BAME offenders experience differential treatment. It was reported in the Young Review that Black prisoners felt that they were stereotyped as drug dealers, and Muslim prisoners stigmatised as extremists.

4. The UK has the highest population of prisoners serving life sentences in Europe — 7,468 in England and Wales and 1,010 in Scotland, compared with 466 in France.

5. 59% of prisoners with sentences 12 months or less re-offend.

6. The average annual cost per prison place is £36,237, the increase in the prison population costs an extra £1.22 billion annually.

7. Muslim prisoners make up 13.4% of the prison population compared with 4.2 % in the 2011 Census.

8. Between 2010 and 2015, recorded incidents in which someone has tried to hang themselves has increased from 580 to 2,023.

9. According to Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) estimates between 24%-31% of all women offenders have one or more child dependents.

10. It’s estimated that 60%-90% of prisoners use or have used New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) — the most commonly used type of NPS is spice also known as black mamba or clockwork orange. NPS have contributed to increased violence among prisoners and against prison staff and negatively affect the health.

There are many misconceptions and myths that surround prisons in the UK from prisons being regarded as holiday camps to prison being the best place for all offenders. The recent riot in HMP Birmingham which involved over 600 prisoners, with reports suggesting it was due to inadequate staff numbers, poor healthcare and nutrition, and prisoners being on “lockdown” in their cells all day, shows our prison estate is in a state of crisis.

I hope this short piece helped to inform you about some of the realities of the prisons in the UK. Our prison population is changing and our prisoners are experiencing higher levels of violence, increased availability of NPS and minimal support upon their release.

If you would like to learn more, the following organisations are great sources of information:

· Clinks — www.clinks.org/

· Prison Reform Trust — www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/

· Women in Prison — www.womeninprison.org.uk/