UK prisons at the moment are so overcrowded that 400 prisoners are to be put in police station cells, it was reported lately. Leeds jail, for instance, presently holds 1,095 individuals; it is supposed to hold 641.
The overcrowding speaks to the truth that over the previous few a long time, the variety of individuals locked up by the British state has risen dramatically – whilst crime has fallen. Former home secretary Priti Patel’s endless promises to crack down on crime (echoed by her shadow Yvette Cooper) belies knowledge that reveals crime plummeting. The England and Wales Crime Survey – which measures incidents of crime skilled by individuals, not simply crime reported to police – confirmed that in 2021-22 there were just 4m crimes committed, in comparison with over 11m in 1981, a lower of 63%.
But over that very same interval, the variety of individuals in jail skyrocketed by 83% from 43,300 to 79,400. Of each 100,000 individuals in England and Wales, 159 are presently in jail.
Nor can the issue be attributed to inhabitants development, which was solely 20% throughout that interval. Indexing crime, incarceration and inhabitants figures alongside each other makes this disconnect starkly seen.
Nonetheless, 159 per 100,000 could appear comparatively few in comparison with the US, which locks up 4 instances as many: 639 individuals per 100,000. However in Europe, the UK stands out as one of many harshest moreover Russia.
As within the US, Britain’s incarceration disaster has a transparent racial factor. Though Black individuals make up solely 3% of individuals in England and Wales, 13% of prisoners are Black; BAME individuals make up 27% of prisoners however solely 18% of the inhabitants.
The dramatic development within the jail inhabitants has three clear causes: ethical panics pushed by media outrage; the Labour occasion’s full embrace of a tough-on-crime stance; and the continued warfare on medicine.
The Nineteen Eighties and Nineties noticed the British media develop into more and more hysterical about crime. Research of newspapers performed on the time recommend that in 1989, over 30% of news coverage in The Sun (Britain’s largest tabloid paper, with 3.6m readers at the time) was about crime, whereas the general common was 13% – up from simply 4% in earlier a long time.
The media’s favourite thing to panic about were illegal raves, contributing to the Conservatives’ determination in 1994 to go the Prison Justice and Public Order Act, which expanded police powers to take away individuals attending or organising raves.
The Nineties broadly noticed a tough-on-crime strategy from the Conservatives, and the jail inhabitants grew considerably – a development we are able to view as deliberate, given home secretary Michael Howard’s claim that prison worked in reducing crime.
But it wasn’t simply the Conservatives who embraced such rhetoric. Very similar to their counterparts within the US Democratic occasion, Tony Blair embraced a carceral strategy within the Nineties. When Blair was shadow house secretary, Labour abstained on the Prison Justice and Public Order Act and pledged to “get robust” on crime.
Blair’s Labour adopted by way of on this dedication once they got here to energy in 1997: between that 12 months and when Labour misplaced in 2010, the party introduced almost 4,289 new criminal offences. In the meantime the jail inhabitants rose by 23,600, a rise of 39%.
Labour’s embrace of a conservative strategy to crime has meant that Britain has largely had the identical crime coverage since Margaret Thatcher turned Prime minister in 1979, leading to a dramatic rise in prisoners. One of many insurance policies that has remained similar all through that point is that regarding medicine. Despite countries like Portugal and even some US states liberalising their legal regimes, the UK remains intensely conservative on the subject.
The consequence is that 10,775 Brits are locked up for drug offences – greater than for every other offence besides violence and sexual offences. Once more, the racialised results are stark: in 2021-22, 33.5% of these arrested for medicine have been BAME, regardless of being solely 17% of the inhabitants.
Pushed by politicians attempting to look robust, upheld by an everlasting warfare on medicine that different international locations have begun to depart behind, Britain has expanded its jail industrial complicated to unseen heights. In 2021-22, the UK elevated its jail spending to £5bn – greater than every other European nation besides Russia. Whereas Britain’s disaster of mass incarceration could also be marginally much less extreme than the USA’s, it’s a disaster nonetheless.
Ell Folan is the founding father of Stats for Lefties and a columnist for Novara Media.