Projections from the Ministry of Justice show that the prison population is expected to jump to 98,700 by September 2026 – up one fifth on the current total of 78,328.
About 5,000 of the increase is expected to come in the next 12 months as the trial backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic leads to offenders currently awaiting justice being jailed.
Other measures including legislation to outlaw coercive control by domestic abusers and anti-knife and acid crime laws introduced last year are also anticipated to put more people behind bars.
But most of the rise is projected to come from the government’s recruitment of 20,000 police officers as part of its pledge to strengthen law and order, as well as an extra 3,400 hired through council precept funding.
That will please critics concerned about the decline in the proportion of offences recorded by police which are currently resulting in prosecution with the overall rate now below 10 per cent.
But the dramatic rise will alarm others worried that high levels of incarceration and poor conditions within many prisons are leading to little rehabilitation and instead often compounding the problems faced by offenders.
Setting out its findings, today’s report states that the “higher projection” of 98,7000 inmates within six years is “predominantly because of the recruitment of 20,000 additional police officers” which it says “is likely to increase charge volumes and .. the future prison population.”
It says that increases are also expected in the numbers of suspects held on remand awaiting prosecution and of offenders recalled to prison for breaching the terms of their release.
Other factors include a projected 20 per cent increase in the number being charged for sex crimes, including rape, and changes to sentencing rules delaying the release of violent and sexual offenders given sentences of between four and seven years.
The number of men, women and children aged 15 to 17 held in prisons are all expected to increase as a result.