The Northern Ireland Prison Population 2020/21 report published today

Date published: 17 September 2021

The Department of Justice (DoJ) today published ‘The Northern Ireland Prison Population 2020/21’ report. It is a National Statistics Publication.


The report looks at the average daily prison population and the number of receptions into Northern Ireland prisons for the financial year 2020/21. 

The reporting period for this publication coincides with the onset of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Northern Ireland. COVID-19 has had an impact throughout the justice system, with lockdowns and other restrictions severely affecting court processing times during 2020/21. This is reflected in the prison population, with a large increase in remand figures, a large decrease in immediate custody figures and the decrease in receptions numbers due to the effects of court activity.  The Northern Ireland Prison Service also made the decision to use Prison Rule 27 (Temporary Release) to manage the prison population during the health emergency. As of 31 March 2021, 395 prisoners had been released temporarily in the 3 months preceding their actual release date under this scheme which was suspended with effect from 1 April 2021.

The key findings were as follows:

Average Daily Prison Population

  • The overall average daily prison population decreased by 4.5% during 2020/21 to 1,448.  Males fell from 1,442 to 1,393 while the female population decreased from 74 to 55.
  • The remand population increased by 10.8% from 492 in 2019/20 to 545 this year and is at its highest level since reporting by financial year began in 2014/15.
  • The proportion of prisoners on remand has increased each year, rising from 23.3% during 2014/15 to 24.7% during 2015/16, 25.4% during 2016/17, 25.6% during 2017/18, 30.1% during 2018/19 and 32.4% during 2019/20 and 37.7% during 2020/21.
  • During 2020/21, the average daily immediate custody prison population decreased by 11.8% to 898, the lowest level since reporting by financial year began in 2014/15. 
  • Prisoners aged between 30 to 39 years of age made up the largest proportion (35.4%) of the average daily immediate custody prison population.
  • In terms of custodial sentence length, the average daily population slightly increased in the sentence categories, ‘life’ and ‘greater than five years but less than life’.  Decreases were found in the remaining custodial sentence length categories.
  • Violence against the Person offences continued to account for the largest proportion of all principal offence categories (35.9%).


  • The number of receptions during 2020/21 were significantly fewer than the previous year, at 4,323 compared to 5,322 during 2019/20, a decrease of 18.8%.
  • Remand receptions decreased by 12.6% over the last year, down from 3,310 in 2019/20 to 2,894 during 2020/21, with immediate custody receptions falling by 29.8% from 1,734 to 1,218.
  • The number of receptions for fine default (where the individual was received into custody solely for fine default offences) decreased by 32.4% from 222 in 2019/20 to 150 in 2020/21. 
  • The largest number of immediate custody receptions were recorded within the 21 to 29 years age group, accounting for 473 (38.8%) of receptions. 
  • A larger proportion of female receptions were sentenced to a custody sentence length of one year or less (86.8%) compared to males (76.2%).
  • Both Violence Against the Person and Public Order offences accounted for the largest proportion of immediate custody receptions, at 19.3% (235) and 17.2% (209) respectively. 

Notes to editors: 

1.  This report presents information on the average daily prison population and the number of receptions into Northern Ireland Prisons for the financial year 2020/21.   It is a National Statistics Publication.

2.  National Statistics are produced in accordance with the Code of Practice for National Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs and are produced free from any political interference.  They are also subject to restrictions in terms of pre-release access.

3.  The report will be available in PDF format from either the statistics and research section of this website DOJ web-site or by contacting Analytical Services Group, Block B, Castle Buildings, Stormont Estate, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, BT4 3SG


4.  Press queries about this publication should be directed to the DOJ Press Office on telephone number 028 9052 6444.

5.  Executive Information Service operates an out of hour’s service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The Duty Press Officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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