THE number of inmates at Askham Grange prison has dropped compared to levels at the start of the pandemic, figures reveal.

With court delays owing to the pandemic being blamed for changes in the normal flow of inmates, the Howard League for Penal Reform said court backlogs had put additional strain on defendants and victims alike.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data shows that there were 103 inmates at Askham Grange prison, a women's open prison, in Askham Richard, North Yorkshire, as of March 31 – 10 fewer than at the same point in 2020. This is in line with the situation across England and Wales, where the number of prisoners fell by six per cent at the end of March.

A MoJ report highlighted the number of people held on remand – those in prison awaiting trial or sentencing – as of March 31, reached a 10-year high last month.

It said: “This quarter we have continued to see the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the prison population.”

Over the last 10 years, there has been a steady falling trend in the number of new prisoners entering the facility each year - however, as a result of disruption to court processes due to the coronavirus pandemic, the decrease has been sharper.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The backlog in the courts has put additional strain on everyone affected by crime – not only defendants spending longer in prison awaiting trial, but also victims, who are having to wait even longer for their cases to be heard.”

A spokesman for the MoJ said Nightingale courts and video hearings had helped speed up the justice process. They added: “Courts have been prioritising the most urgent cases throughout the pandemic to protect the public and ensure offenders face justice.”