The United Kingdom Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has announced that the country is considering renting prison cell spaces abroad in Europe to “ensure dangerous offenders can be locked up for longer”. The Ministry of Justice says the country will also be building six new prisons to create an additional 20,000 places for inmates.
England and Wales currently have the highest rates of imprisonment of any country in western Europe. According to a report by The Prison Reform Trust, the prison population in these two countries has increased by 80 percent in the past three decades, with 85,851 prisoners counted as of June 2023. These numbers are estimated to rise further yet, to hit 93,200 by 2024.
The following chart shows how judges in England and Wales are handing out longer prison sentences than before. According to data from the UK Ministry of Justice, the average prison sentence of all offenses was 22.6 months in 2022. This is already a step up from the average of 18.6 months in 2021, and has doubled since the year 2000 when it was 11.4 months.
According to The Prison Reform Trust, these longer sentences are being seen across the board, with almost all types of offences. This ranges from manslaughter, where people were sentenced an average of 59.2 months in 2008 and 106.1 months in 2019 (a 79 percent increase), to knife possession, where people were sentenced an average of 4.7 months in 2008 and 7.1 months in 2019 (a 51 percent increase).
In addition to statistics on the UK criminal justice system, opinion polls have been used to try and capture a sense of public sentiments on the state of the criminal justice system. According to a 2018 survey by Crest Advisory, only seven percent of respondents said that having more people in prison was the most effective way to deal with crime. Better parenting (41 percent), better rehabilitation to divert people from crime (33 percent) and better discipline in schools (33 percent) were all rated as more effective responses.