The Ministry of Justice have published a concerning report depicting an unsafe prison system for both inmates and staff.
With prison populations growing and understaffing becoming commonplace, it is no longer possible to ignore the problems facing our prisons.
The newly released ‘Safety in Custody Statistics Bulletin’ illustrates a dramatic worsening of safety since 2015:
- There were 354 deaths in prison custody in 2016, an increase of 38% on the previous year.
- In 2016 there were 119 suicides; this figure has doubled since 2012.
- Self-harm incidents reached a record high of 37,784, an increase of almost 7,000 on 2015.
- The total number of assaults reached 25,049; 3372 of these were serious, an increase of 28% on the previous year.
The Prison Reform Trust has calculated that almost 1/4 of inmates are held in overcrowded conditions.
Director of the Prison Reform Trust, Peter Dawson, states that the ‘only realistic way to make our prisons safe in the foreseeable future’, is by decreasing the prison population.
He adds: ‘We know that the worst outcomes happen in overcrowded prisons.’
The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ chairwoman, Pamela Taylor, says that mental health teams are understaffed and struggling to help prisoners in ‘desperate need’.
One such example of this desperate state of affairs was the suicide of Dean Saunders in January last year.
At only 25 years old, Mr Saunders electrocuted himself in HMP Chelmsford despite pleas from his mother to have him under ‘constant watch’.
In response to this tragedy, the Prison Ombudsman found that the criminal justice system did ‘too little to protect’ this vulnerable inmate.
Inquest, a charity working with inmates’ families, has also expressed major concerns.
Inquest’s director, Deborah Coles, describes a ‘broken system’ unable to deal with inmates’ problems – from mental and physical health conditions to addictions.
Ms Coles continues: ‘Inquest after inquest highlights the same systematic failures.
‘Countless investigations, prison watchdog reports and reviews recommend solutions to protect the health and safety of staff and prisoners that are systematically ignored.’
The message from experts is clear and repetitive; the disparity in prison population and staffing numbers needs to be addressed.
In their report, the Ministry of Justice indicates a correlation between the decrease in safety and government reduction in overall prison running costs.
Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Justice, has acknowledged that prisons are ‘not working’ and are under ‘serious and sustained pressure’.
In November, Ms Truss revealed plans detailing a £1.3 billion investment in news prisons over the next five years.
This investment will increase staffing and improve security whilst her plan to reduce reoffending takes effect.
Hopefully the next decade will see dramatic improvements to a prison system which currently fails those both inside and out.