Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)



The authorities publish official statistics on prison population


The prison service has a computerised record keeping system


Total number of prisoners



England and Wales had 79,086 prisoners. It was estimated that there would be 98,700 by 20261.

  1. UK Parliament,UK Prison Population Statistics, October 2021. 

Variation in the number of prisoners

decreased by 2.56%

compared to the previous year

  • The Ministry of Justice estimated that the prison population would increase to 98 500 in 2026, an increase of about 22.5 percent. The increase could be explained by the use of longer sentences, the creation of 20 000 additional detention places and the recruitment of 20 000 police officers.

    / The Guardian
  • The prison population had increased over the previous 30 years by 70%. England and Wales had the second highest incarceration rate in Western Europe. The use of short prison sentences for non-violent crimes was common, despite analyses that pointed to their ineffectiveness in reducing recidivism.

    / Prison Reform Trust

Number of people serving non-custodial sentences



119,334 persons aged 18 or over were supervised in the community in 2017 under Community order (59%) or Suspended Sentence Orders (41%). Men represent 85% of the offenders in the community. Community or Suspended Sentences were given mostly for men and women aged 30 to 39 (32% of females and 28% of males).1

  1. Ministry of Justice, Official Statistics Bulletin, “Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service Offender Equalities Annual Report 2017/2018”, November 2018, pp. 57-58. 

Variation in the incarceration rate


Number of admissions



Number of releases



Average length of imprisonment (in months)



The average length of detention is 18,9 months when including the “non-criminal population” 1 (760 prisoners on 31 March 2020).

  1. The Ministry of Justice defines “non-criminal prisoner” as “a civil non-criminal prisoner is someone who is in prison because of a non-criminal matter, for example, non-payment of council tax or contempt of court”

Prison density

102.6 %


68 prison establishments (58%) were overcrowded in October 2018, according to the Ministry of Justice.The Howard League developed a weekly updated online tool presenting the most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales.

The number of prisoners according to the length of their sentence was, on the 31 December 2017, as follows 1:

  • less than one month: 218 (0.3%)
  • between one and three months: 1,076 (1.4%)
  • between three and six months: 2,568 (3.4%)
  • between six months and a year: 2,590 (3.5%)
  • between one and three years: 14,166 (18.9%)
  • between three and five years: 9,200 (12.3%)
  • between five and ten years: 14,774 (19.8%)
  • between 10 and 20  years: 7,927 (10.6%)
  • 20  years or more: 713 (1%)
  • life sentence: 7,247 (9.7%)
  • other: 13,567 (18.1%)

Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities


Overpopulation is concentrated in local and Category C prisons. Certain women’s prisons are also experiencing overpopulation (due to a rise in the number of women arrested and the closure of Holloway Prison in July 2016).

The prison population has risen over the last 30 years. Notably, it has passed from 64,602 prisoners in 2000 to 82,773 in 2018, peaking at 86,634 in 2012. Nicola Padfield gives two reasons for this rise: sentences are more severe; and the possibility of sentencing adjustments are reduced.1

  1. Nicola Padfield & Nancy Loucks, “Le système pénitentiaire anglais et gallois” (The English and Welsh prison system), in J. Céré and C. E. Japiassú (éds.), Les systèmes pénitentiaires dans le monde (Prison systems in the world), 2018, p. 27-44. 

Name of authority in charge of the prison service

Ministry of Justice

Budget of the prison service


dollars - 4,4 billions £

/ HM Prison & Probation Service, Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18, p. 10

Percentage of the ministerial budget allocated to the prison service

57 %

/ HM Prison & Probation Service, Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18, p. 10

The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully


The administration fully delegates the management of 14 English prisons to private suppliers. There are three operators involved:

  • G4S, five facilities 
  • Serco, five facilities
  • Sodexo, four facilities.

In February 2019, Birmingham Prison, under contract to G4S, came back under the control of the administration. This decision was taken following statements in August 2018 from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, concerning the degradation of detention conditions.

Parc Prison (Bridgend) is the only prison in Wales under private management.

Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) was placed under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. It is in charge of the management and correct functioning of prison and probation services in both private and public prisons. On 1st April 2017, it replaced the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

The enforcement of sentences is the responsibility of the prison service and its partners. The Youth Custody Service, which is linked to the prison service, is in charge of the enforcement of sentences for minors.1

The detention regimes that are carried out are organised into categories. These categories take into account a person’s gender, age and perceived danger. It is the administration that defines each of these categories.

For men:

  • Category A: Very high security measures. This regime applies to prisoners whose escape would present a grave danger to the population, police, or the state. This risk is evaluated using three levels: normal, high, and exceptional. Category A is subdivided into three groups: potential, temporary, and confirmed.
  • Category B: High security measures aiming to make escape very difficult.
  • Category C: Moderate security measures for prisoners who are unlikely to be placed in an open environment without attempting to escape.
  • Category D: Minimal security measures for prisoners unlikely to attempt to escape when placed in an open environment.

For women, minors and young adults:

  • Category A: Very high security measures. This regime applies to prisoners whose escape would present a grave danger to the population, police, or the state. Women are very rarely put in this category.
  • Restricted Status: High security measures. This regime applies to every woman, minor or young adult, accused or convicted, whose escape would present a significant risk to the population.
  • Closed Conditions: Moderate security measures. This regime applies to prisoners placed in a secure environment that does not require strict security measures.
  • Open conditions: Minimal security measures for prisoners placed in an open environment.1

  1. Gabrielle Garton Grimwood, “Categorisation of prisoners in the UK”, House of Commons Library - Briefing paper, 29  December  2015. 

The men, women and children imprisoned in England and Wales are incarcerated in different units.

There are four main prison categories for men:

  • Trainer prisons: these house category B and C prisoners (the majority of prisoners). These prisons provide facilitated access to professional training and activities. There are 43 category C trainer prisons and 8 that are category B. The category C trainer prisons are at times resettlement prisons. These pool prisoners condemned to sentences of between one and four years. Prisoners are accompanied, during the final three months, by a member of staff in charge of preparations for leaving prison (resettlement providers).
  • Local prisons: these house remand prisoners, people sentenced to short jail terms, and those waiting to be transferred to a different facility. There are 29 local prisons.
  • Open institutions: these house category D prisoners (low risk). Some prisoners are at the end of their sentence. They have carried out the majority of their sentences in the highest security prisons. There are ten of these open institutions.
  • The eight high security prisons are split into two categories:
    • Core locals hold the same categories of prisoners as those in local prisons, under a stricter security regime.
    • Dispersals hold category A prisoners (high risk). Their aim is to spread the prisoners considered most dangerous throughout the entire territory.

There are 12 facilities for women in England and Wales. Two of them, Askham Grange and East Sutton Park, are open institutions.

Minors and young adults are gathered in three types of prisons:

  • Young Offender Institutions, YOI
  • Secure Training Centres, STC
  • Secure Children’s Homes, SCH.1

Please refer to the Minors section for more information.

  1. House of Commons Library,“Briefing paper : The prison estate“, December 2018. 

  • The new Five Wells Prison opened its doors. It had approximately 1700 places for Category C inmates (see Overview, Organisation section). The facility was designed with ultra-secure windows without bars and with so-called “smart” technology. Inmates would have access to tablets to support their learning. The cells were called “rooms” and the inmates, “residents”. The facility was in partnership with local employers to promote the professional integration of people leaving prison. Two special wings were dedicated to people living with substance dependence. The British Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, said that the main aim of Five Wells was “to reduce re-offending and make our streets safer”.

    / TechTribune

Total number of prison facilities



Total official capacity of the prison facilities


/ Minstry of Justice, "Prison population figures 2018"

Certified National Accomodation1 in use.

  1. Certified National Accommodation (CNA), or uncrowded capacity, is the Prison Service’s own measure of accommodation. CNA represents the good, decent standard of accommodation that the Service aspires to provide all prisoners. Details can be found in “PSI 17/2012”. 

Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities

a decrease of 1.2 %

The total capacity of the prison system, as of 31 December 2017, is 75,545.

A catefory C ‘mega-prison’ at Full Sutton, with a capacity of 1 440, is in the final phase of construction. The future prison has been highly criticised by the local population. The opponents believe that the construction is incompatible with the local sewer system and is creating excessive visual and sound pollution. Residents are worried about the repercussions on the reputation of their town as well as their safety1.

  • The expansion project for the Ford Men’s Prison, submitted by the Ministry of Justice, was approved. Two additional wings would provide space for 120 inmates and 80 parking spaces. An existing prison building would be demolished to allow for the construction.

    / Sussex Express

The size of facilities varies significantly. The smallest, East Sutton Park, has 101 spaces. It consolidates an open unit for women and a unit for young offenders. The largest, Parc at Bridgend (Wales), has 1,699 spaces. It is managed by the private group G4S. It consolidates a category B unit for men and a young offenders unit.1

  1. Ministry of Justice, “Prison population figures 2018”, 2019. 

Prison facilities are accessible by public transport


  • About a third of the prison estate was built in the Victorian era (the second half of the 19th Century).These facilities are situated in city centres. They are mainly local prisons.

  • Almost a third of the prison estate is composed of buildings constructed in the mid-20th Century (the years 1940 to 1970). They are often old military bases or internment camps that were used during (or after) the Second World War. They are situated outside the cities.

  • The prisons built at the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century, approximately the remaining third, are generally situated outside the cities.1

  1. House of Commons Library, “Briefing paper : The prison estate”, December 2018. 

Number of prison guards (FTE)



Workforce statistics from HMPPS cover staff who are employed by HMPPS. They are all civil servants. The official data provided by HMPPS does not include other workers within HMPPS who are employed by third parties (e.g. private sector, CRCs). This number also excludes voluntary workers, HMPPS staff on loan, on secondment out, and those on a career break.1

  • The Operational Stability and Resourcing Panel (OSRP) is a group of experts made up of senior officials that meet once a week to analyse the impact of staff shortages in the prisons of England and Wales. According to authorities, the panel’s role is “to provide support to those prisons with the most acute resourcing pressures”. The Ministry of Justice stated that between November 2020 and November 2022, the panel was called on for help 647 times. The prisons of Woodhill and Wayland seem to be struggling the most: since mid-2021, they each received help on 20 occasions. The prisons of Long Lartin and Swaleside significantly restricted their regimes starting in August 2022 due to staff shortages.

    / InsideTime
  • Independent Monitoring Boards for the prisons of Belmarsh, Birmingham and Preston report numerous problems resulting from staff shortages: loss of property (HMP Belmarsh and HMP Birmingham), long waiting times for dental appointments (HMP Belmarsh), limited access to showers (HMP Belmarsh), fewer visits (HMP Preston) and incomplete renovations to infrastructure that must be completed in the presence of surveillance staff (HMP Preston).

    / InsideTime
  • Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that one in seven prison staff members left their jobs last year. The resulting staff shortage heavily impacts prison operations, as prisoners spend more time in their cells and exercise options are cut. The director of the Prison Reform Trust commented that although prison capacity is expected to increase by 20,000 by 2025, it is unclear who will guard these new prisoners.

    / InsideTime
  • The charity Prison Reform Trust has raised the alarm about the leaving rate of prison staff. It also noted that half of the officers who left their posts during the year ended 31 March 2021 had served for less than three years, and more than a quarter had served for less than a year. The charity’s director warned of the necessity of curbing the increased number of departures. He stated, “We are going to run out of people to run the prisons we’ve got – never mind the ones ministers want to build.

    HM Chief Inspector of Prisons remarked that one of the biggest challenges facing the prison service is recruiting staff to counteract the significant number of departures and absences.

    / Prison Reform Trust

Variation in the number of prison guard positions


  • According to the Ministry of Justice, one in seven prison officers left their jobs in 2021. Recruiting and retaining staff has been particularly challenging in certain areas of southern England, where the labour market is buoyant, and in rural areas where the pool of potential recruits is limited. Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the Prison Officers’ Association, has warned that this problem is due in part to low wages.

    / InsideTime

Guard to prisoner ratio

1 : 4


The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)


The leading union in the United Kingdom is the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional & Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA). It represents uniformed prison staff (as defined by the PSO publication 8805), and psychiatric staff.

Prison wardens follow a 12-week training programme. Ten of these weeks are devoted to initial training (Prison Officer Entry Level Training, POELT),

This training includes:

  • the care of prisoners (first aid, food, hygiene, health and safety, regulations, etc.)
  • search and security procedures
  • de-escalation techniques (conflict management)

The first and last weeks of training are undertaken in prison. Training continues after the position has been taken, during the year that follows. Individuals assigned to high security prisons sometimes undergo specific two-week training.

The salary of prison officers is between £22,000 and £30,000 a year for 39-hour weeks. It takes into account cost of living where the work takes place. National Living Wage is about £15,880.

The staff have:

  • Twenty-five days of annual leave (which rises to 30 after 10 years of service)
  • paid leave for public holidays and one additional day off
  • Public Service Pension Plan (up to 20% of their salary)
  • service vouchers for childcare
  • Cycle to Work programme (staff are given a bicycle and equipment to get to their place of work)
  • travel loans…1