The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, has issued an unexpectedly blunt warning of a serious risk to public safety due to prison overcrowding, stating that Ministers are responsible for a “political and policy failure”. Mr Hardwick spoke of the decision by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP that all but six of 40 publicly-run prisons have been told to help house 440 extra inmates.
The concerns of the chief inspector were that due to staff shortages, prisoners were locked up for long durations causing huge tensions, that the system can’t cope and extra resources are needed to protect public safety and help the system cope. The fact that Mr Hardwick has previously stayed clear of criticising government policy makes his warning all the more serious.
The Prison Officers Association (POA) has criticised the government for raising the operational capacity of prisons and has called the situation a fiasco. The inspector’s concerns echo those of staff, who have been put at much greater risk to their personal safety and whose workloads have become unmanageable due to cuts to staff and funding t0-date.
The POA has pointed out that the government has closed 20 prisons and allowed thousands of operational and non-operational staff to leave the service under voluntary exit schemes, based on a prediction that prison populations would fall, which has now been proven wrong, especially considering the increase in the population of private prisons to 900 extra inmates, at a further cost to the taxpayer.
The prison system is in crisis, underfunded, understaffed and with an increase in prisoner population. Public safety has been put at risk, as well as the safety of prison staff, let alone the effectiveness of the service to meet the needs of society and rehabilitate offenders.
See the following for more detail:
‘Prisons inspector accuses ministers of prisons ‘failure‘, BBC News, 14 June
‘POA slam decision to further increase the operational capacity of prisons by 440‘, Prison Officers Association news, 13 June