Trends in criminal justice spending, staffing and populations 2008-2009 to 2017-2018

Friday, 12 July, 2019

Criminal justice system in England and Wales is on the cusp of a punitive turn, with consequences for an already crisis-ridden prisons system, according to latest report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. 

The criminal justice system in England and Wales has become increasingly punitive, with more pressure being piled onto an already crisis-ridden prisons system. The report, Trends in criminal justice spending, staffing and populations, reveals that police-recorded crime – often considered the gateway to the criminal justice system – has soared over the last decade. In conjunction, the increasing political support for restoring police officer levels to pre-austerity historical highs, alongside harsher sentencing for knife offences suggests that a more punitive system is on the horizon. Considering the stubbornly high prison population and significant cuts to spending and staffing since 2010, the prisons system may face unsustainable pressure. 

Trends in criminal justice spending, staffing and populations 2007/2008 to 2017-2018, tracks changes in expenditure, workforce and caseloads in the main criminal justice institutions of the police, courts, prison and probation over the latest ten-year period for which there is data. The report is unique in covering all three criminal justice jurisdictions of the UK: England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Key findings from the report include:

  • An increase of 37% in the number of crimes recorded by the police, from around four million in 2013-2014 to 5.5 million in 2017-2018 
  •  A fall of 53% in community sentences handed down in the courts, from over 190,000 in 2008-2009 to just over 90,000 in 2017-2018
  • A prison population remaining stubbornly high at around 85,000 people on any given day between 2008-2009 and 2017-2018
  • 7% less spent on prisons, from £4.2 billion in 2012-2013 to 3.9 billion in 2016-2017 
  • 30% fewer prison staff, falling from 51,000 in 2008-2009 to 36,000 in 2017-2018

In terms of a UK-wide perspective, the overall criminal justice footprint of all three jurisdictions have shrunk. In Northern Ireland, spending on criminal justice has fallen alongside a decline in prison, probation and police officers whilst convictions and prosecutions have also decreased. In Scotland, despite expenditure cuts, there has been an increase in probation, police and prison service staff. The unifying trend across all three criminal justice jurisdictions is that all continue to have a stubbornly high prison population. 

The report’s author, Matt Ford said: 

Our report shows that despite significant declines in the number of cases processed through the criminal justice system, the prison population remains stubbornly high. Drastic cuts to staffing have left the prison system ill-equipped to manage even the current prison population, never mind any rise in prison numbers that might be on the horizon . The government needs to relieve the acute pressure in the pressure system by reducing the prison population and closing prisons as a matter of urgency. 

Read the report here