As at 10 October 2017 the prison population was 86,362 of which 4,010 were women. The prison population has increased by 82% in the last 30 years. 68,000 people were given a custodial sentence in 2016. Around 80,000 are released each year. Prison is a revolving door. According to the National Audit Office there is no consistent correlation between prison numbers and levels of crime. In 2016 44% of adults were reconvicted within the year. We know short prison sentences are ineffective. A criminal record makes finding employment exceptionally difficult yet 47% of prison sentences are less than 6 months.
The overall cost per prisoner for public and private prisons in England and Wales is £35,000. This is a reduction of 20% over five years.
The Prison Service struggles to recruit and retain staff. The number of front line officers is down 25% in the last 7 years, however the prison population has remained the same.
Less money and fewer staff means that people spend longer in their cells than ever before. 66% of prisons are judged by Prison Inspectors as providing inadequate purposeful activity for inmates.
The prison population is complex and vulnerable. Comparative to the general population, people in prison are more likely to have learning difficulties (30%), suffer psychosis (15%), have been excluded from school (41%), be from the care system (40% of detained children) or be from a BME background (26%).
In 2016 there were 344 deaths in prison. A third were self- inflicted. Incidents of self- harm rose from 26,000 in 2014 to 40,000 in 2016. Assaults on staff have increased by 88% in two years and assaults on fellow inmates have doubled over a three years period. Our prisons are increasingly violent.
Notwithstanding the above we continue to sentence more people to prison and for longer periods of time. In the last 10 years the number of people serving sentences over 10 years went up by 250%. We make more use of indeterminate sentences (no fixed term), 14% of prisoners do not know when they will be released: 10% of prisoners have served longer than their recommended tariff. These people are more likely to self- harm.
It is in this context that we go into prisons, every week, 45 weeks of the year, to bring together a group of adults who want to feel safe, enjoy each others company and express and develop themselves through music. It’s a guaranteed positive experience, that generates hope, confidence and belief in self and other people. In the process people develop fitter minds, better social skills and experience a sense of social inclusion – vital to successful resettlement into the community.
Facts and figures taken from the 2017 Bromley Briefing, collated by the Prison Reform Trust from official Government statistics.