Prison population growing

Prisons 1 Northern Ireland’s prison numbers are growing but the province still jails a relatively small proportion of its population.

A recent increase in the prison population has been driven by a rising number of sentenced prisoners as opposed to those on remand. The most recent statistics (for 2013) show that 73 per cent of prisoners were in the ‘immediate custody’ category i.e. serving a sentence imposed by the court.

An increase in the number of judges has helped to clear up a backlog of cases and therefore ensure more sentencing takes place.

The number of prisoners on remand is decreasing – a trend which has been linked to a smaller number of defendants appearing at magistrates’ courts and shorter waiting times for appearing at crown courts.

The vast majority of prisoners (1,765) are male and most of these (1,050) were held at Maghaberry. Magilligan prison held 545 inmates while the Hydebank site held 170 young male offenders and the province’s 61 female prisoners.

Numbers of people entering prison fell dramatically from 8,004 to 5,361 between 2012 and 2013. This is explained by a decrease in remands and a judicial review decision which temporarily suspended the imprisonment of fine defaulters.

Northern Ireland’s incarceration rate stood at 101 prisoners per 100,000 people, compared to 148 in England and Wales, 147 in Scotland, and 88 in the Republic. This is related to its relatively low crime rate although the province did have 184 life sentence prisoners: 176 men and eight women.

Loyalist and republican prisoners are held in separate units at Maghaberry which can hold up to 96 prisoners each. The Secretary of State has discretion over prisoners’ separated status and is responsible for surveillance, intelligence and national security issues in prisons.

Interestingly, on an average day, the prison system will also be holding a non-criminal prisoner (down from six per day in 2009). Non-criminal prisoners are usually immigration detainees, most of whom have been transferred to a holding facility in Larne. They also include those sentenced for contempt of court and failure to pay child maintenance. The Prison Service has a total of 1,363 full-time equivalent staff.

Average daily population

2009: 1,470
2010: 1,485
2011: 1,682
2012: 1,774
2013: 1,826

Age structure

17-20: 6%
21-29: 40%
30-39: 24%
40-49: 17%
50-59: 9%
60 and over: 4%
Total: 100

Type of sentence

Violence against a person: 33%
Theft, burglary and robbery: 23%
Sexual offences: 13%
Public order offences: 7%
Drugs offences: 6%
Other: 18%
Total: 100%

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