Prisons under attack

Prison officer and prisoner. Photo Mark Harvey / ID8 Photography

The government’s promised ‘rehabilitation revolution’ has not materialised, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons has stated,

“It is hard to imagine anything less likely to rehabilitate prisoners than days spent mostly lying on their bunks, in squalid cells watching daytime TV. For too many prisoners, this was the reality and the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ had yet to start.”

(HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Annual Report 2014/15)

Reforms and year-on-year budget cuts have created a crisis in our prisons. Overcrowding is at record levels, exacerbated by a programme of prison closures. According to the Inspectorate, overcrowding means prisons will not have the rehabilitation programmes and support mechanisms needed. Inspectors have found shortfalls in the provision of offender behaviour programmes, particularly for domestic violence and sex offenders. Serious assaults have increased by 55 per cent, and those on staff by 58 per cent since 2010. Work, training, education and other activity outcomes assessed by the Inspectorate were rated ‘dismal’ or only ‘good’ or ‘reasonably good’ in 25 per cent of male prisons inspected (Annual Report, 2014/15).

Since 2010, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in prison staff and in 2015 the House of Commons Justice Committee (2015) concluded,

“…the key explanatory factor for the obvious deterioration in standards over the last year is that a significant number of prisons have been operating at staffing levels below what is necessary to maintain reasonable, safe and rehabilitative regimes”.

The number of women sent to prison for non-violent crimes is still unacceptably high – at 82 per cent, with 41 per cent in custody for theft or handling stolen goods (Ministry of Justice, 2015). The government is planning to close the only two open women’s prisons, which enables low risk offenders the opportunity to find work, maintain family ties and reintegrate into the community before release.

Despite shortages, staff are expected to deal with increasingly more offenders with health problems. Nearly half of female prisoners, and a quarter of male prisoners were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression; and 20-30 per cent of prisoners are estimated to have learning disabilities or difficulties (Ministry of Justice, 2015).

Privatisation is still a threat, and in 2015 the government privatised prison and facilities maintenance, in a hurried and untransparent process – with multinationals Amey, and Carillion (known for blacklisting) winning the contract. The UK has the most privatised prison system in Europe, also holding more prisoners privately than the USA. Private prisons here have held a higher percentage of prisoners in overcrowded accommodation every year, for the last 16 years. Despite government claims that the private sector delivers greater efficiencies, figures show that the 14 private prisons in the UK, run by Serco, G4S and Sodexo, receive 22 per cent of the funding, but provide 18 per cent of prison places, while public sector prisons receive 78 per cent of funding and provide 82 per cent of places (Ministry of Justice 2015). In 2012-13, G4S and Serco were investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over allegations of overcharging for their electronic monitoring contract – which led to them repaying £180m to the government. Commercial confidentiality for private providers remains a barrier to public transparency and accountability.


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Justice is under attack

The government is fragmenting the justice system, privatising policing, probation and prison services, closing courts, slashing the legal aid budget and making drastic cuts to funding. This will undermine the system, reduce access to justice and put public safety at risk.

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The attack on justice: Slideshow
View our animated presentation - The Attack on Justice: Voices from the front line.