Inmates with no religion are the largest group, however

Catholics in prisons in England and Wales outnumber Anglicans for the first time, according to official figures.

Anglicans comprised 17 per cent of inmates, a fall from half the prison population in 1993, while the number of Catholics in prison doubled over the same period. The Ministry of Justice reported that there were 14,961 Catholics and 14,691 Anglicans at the end of June.

The number of Muslims in prison has risen sixfold since 1993, to 13,100. Inmates with no religion are the largest group, with 26,443 reported.

According to 2015’s British Social Attitudes survey, about a fifth of Britons identify as Anglican while eight per cent say they are Catholic.

There are about 300 Church of England chaplains, 220 Catholic chaplains and 200 part- and full-time imams in prisons. But the Prison Act 1952 stipulates: “The chaplain and any assistant chaplain shall be a clergyman of the Church of England.” The chaplain-general has always been an Anglican Cleric.

In 2012 the National Offender Management Service proposed ending Anglican dominance in prison ministry. But Chris Grayling, the then justice secretary, said that the rules reflected the “unique position” of the Church of England as the established church. In 2010, a report by the then chief inspector of prisons attributed the rise in Muslim inmates to the age and socio-economic profiles of the Muslim population in general.

In April, the Ministry of Justice said that the number of foreign nationals in prison has doubled in the last decade, and is now more than 14 per cent of the total prison population in England and Wales.