Prison violence has risen significantly, according to official figures released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), showing that the number of assaults by prisoners in England and Wales rose to 15,033 in 2013-14 from 14,083 in 2012-13. A stark warning was given by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, in June, when he claimed there had been a “political and policy failure” on the part of the government, which had led to serious overcrowding in prisons; all but six of the publicly run prisons had been told to house an extra 440 inmates.
The MoJ data reveals that for the adult prison population (those aged 21 and over), the number of assault incidents has increased by 2,050 over the past five years. The number of assaults on prison staff in the past year has also increased by 12 per cent when compared with the year before; in the 12 months to the end of March 2014 there were 3,363 assaults. Further, the number of deaths in prisons increased from 181 to 225, with an increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths from 52 in the year up to March 2013, to 88 in the year up to March 2014; 88 is the highest number of self-inflicted deaths since 2005.
In introducing the figures, the MoJ state, “Although this publication concerns statistics, the incidents described in this report are, by their nature, tragic and distressing to the prisoners, their families and staff.” The tragedy is that the government has been warned repeatedly by a whole range of individuals and organisations about the risk of increasing violence in prisons, and that an increasing prison population combined with staff shortages is a recipe for disaster.
Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling has admitted that there are staff shortages and that prisons in England and Wales face problems with violence and suicide. However, earlier this year, amidst criticism from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Prison Officers Association and others, the government decided to increase the operational capacity of prisons, which has increased overcrowding and put further pressure on an already reduced workforce.
The government was also embarrassed earlier this year when it was revealed that the MoJ had tried to re-employ more than 2,000 prison officers on a short-term basis, who only recently took voluntary redundancy, in order to attempt to avert the growing crisis in prisons, as the number of inmates has increased significantly.
The Prison Annual Performance ratings released by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in July of this year, also shows that 28 out of 126 jails, including the three opened under the current government, are “of concern” – the third lowest of four ratings. What much of this adds up to is a severe crisis in prisons, not just a problem. It is not acceptable that the government refuses to acknowledge the very clear link between staff shortages, overcrowding and an increase in violence, and, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons has noted with unexpected assertiveness, this link is based on a political and policy failure on the part of the government.
It is time we addressed the root causes of the crisis…
Speak Up for Justice is calling for prisons and prison services to be in the public sector, and for a review looking at overcrowding, closures and the impact of privatisation on services and workers.
Sign our petition to Chris Grayling and Theresa May, calling on them to stop gambling with our justice system: http://act.goingtowork.org.uk/page/s/put-justice-before-profit-petition-chris-grayling-and-theresa-may