Our Landscape


The period concluding March 2023 marked the second year of the criminal justice system’s (CJS) journey toward recovery after the pandemic. During this time, various aspects of the CJS demonstrated a restoration to conditions seen before the pandemic, while certain elements are still in the process of attaining that same standard. As some parts of the prison system continue to operate at substandard levels, it is imperative to reinstate regular prison operations and achieve suitable performance levels across the entire system to continue the restoration process. 


By June 30, 2023, the prison population reached 85,851, up 6% from the prior year. This increase of approximately 5,200 people in the last 12 months brings the total to about 3,000 more than March 2020’s pre-pandemic count. This marks the first quarter, surpassing the pre-pandemic figure of 82,990 in March 2020.1 

Crowding in prisons rose to 23% over the year, up from 21%. The upward trend in people on remand observed since early 2020 continued, with a 16% rise between June 2022 and June 2023. This growth is seen in both ‘untried’ (up 16%) and ‘convicted unsentenced’ (up 15%) populations, attributed to court recovery efforts after COVID-19.2 

Staffing in prisons remains a challenge. Despite a slight increase in staff numbers, restricted regimes due to shortages and probation performance impact the context. As of June 30, there were 22,426 FTE band 3-5 prison officers, up 3.2% from 2022. High leaving rates, especially among frontline officers, worsen the situation. Leaving rates of 13.4% for band 3-5 and 14.8% for Band 3-4 officers (year ending June 2023) add to staffing woes. Operational support staff had a leaving rate of 17.1%, intensifying workforce concerns.3 

The number of people in prison on basic incentives steadily rose, aligning with pre-pandemic levels. By March 2023, 2,571 people in prison were on basic incentives, a significant increase from 559 in 2020-21. Notably, engagement in productive activities increased, with an average of 1,088 people working within custody and undergoing the Prisoner Engagement Assessment (PEA), a 37% increase from the previous year.


As of March 31, 2023, the total number of offenders under probation supervision, encompassing court orders and pre/post-release monitoring, stood at 239,518. This indicated a minor 0.6% decrease compared to March 2022, with an overall 8% increase since March 2013. Recent data suggests that probation trends, including starts and caseloads, have returned to levels observed before the pandemic.  

From January to March 2023, 41,042 offenders initiated probation supervision, a 6% increase from the previous quarter. The court order caseload diminished by 2% between March 2022 and March 2023, totalling 111,038, with community orders (COs) decreasing by 5% and suspended sentence orders (SSOs) with requirements increasing by 2%. The total caseload for offenders supervised pre/post-release by March 2023 reached 132,872, a 1% rise from March 2022. The termination data showed that 73% of COs and 79% of SSOs ended successfully between January and March 2023, either running their entire course or concluding early due to progress.


Policing is in crisis due to strained relations with the public, resulting in reduced trust. High-profile failures, including crimes by officers, have eroded confidence, stemming from systemic issues within the police service and criminal justice system. Concerns encompass an inadequate focus on public priorities, victim dissatisfaction, and a declining perception of police effectiveness. The Metropolitan Police (Met) faces challenges like an £0.7 billion budget reduction (18% budget decrease), closure of 126 stations, and loss of staff. While traditional volume crimes decrease, serious offences like violence and sexual crimes rise (31% of all crimes in 2022-23) amid declining public trust from 89% in 2016 to 66% in 2022, disproportionately affecting Black and mixed ethnic groups.