Recent projections by the Ministry of Justice have suggested that the numbers of inmates in UK prisons could rise beyond capacity by as soon as 2020. The figures released for England and Wales estimate that as many as 92,000 prisoners could be incarcerated by 2020 – placing numbers at around 5,000 higher than the current capacity of 87,053.
But could what looks like bad news for UK prisons actually mean good news for criminal justice workers?
If criminal sentencing were to continue at today’s levels, projections estimate that the current number of UK prisoners – 86,388 – could increase to 88,000 by 2022; over capacity but not by much. However new, tougher sentencing laws introduced by the Conservative government look set to increase not only the number of people jailed but also the length of their sentences, which critics say will leave prisons ‘overflowing’.
The government has defended its new regulations, citing tougher sentencing on sexual assault and domestic abuse cases as successes of their policy. However critics such as Andrew Neilson of the Howard League for Penal Reform point out that tougher sentencing is apparently not working as a deterrent for crime. “Reoffending rates remain stubbornly high,” he said. “Building more prisons will not solve these problems – it will only cause them to grow. The Government must reduce demand on jails if it wants to regain control of them.”
As reoffending rates remain the same, violence, self-harm, and suicides in prisons continue to grow to record levels. Assaults on both staff and inmates have risen by 20%, while attacks on guards have grown by 35%. Last year, a record number of inmates took their own lives while incidents of self-harm increased by 23%.
Urgent appeal for prison staff
As the welfare of both prisoners and prison workers is put in danger, industry professionals are putting out increasingly urgent calls for additional staffing. Not only is this increased demand for extra officers and wardens, but also for other roles such as support workers and GPs to tackle the alarmingly high rates of inmate self-harm and suicide. In fact, two understaffed prisons in Lancashire recently put out an urgent appeal for GPs, practise nurses, and nurse practitioners to help prop up their health services – even if the individuals volunteering had no experience working in prisons whatsoever.
While this news doesn’t look good for UK prisons, it could mean a wealth of opportunities for criminal justice workers in a range of fields across the country. As the situation grows worse, skilled workers are likely to be more in demand than ever before as the UK prison system struggles to prevent chaos and catastrophe.