Violence in prison has hit a record high, according to new figures released by the Ministry of Justice.
According to the latest statistics, some 27,193 incidents of assault were recorded in the 12 months up to June, including 2,687 deemed as ‘serious’ – that is, requiring medical intervention – up 14 per cent from the previous year. 19,678 of these incidents were prisoner-on-prisoner attacks, whilst the remaining 7,437 comprised assaults on prison staff. Eleanor Sheerin reports.
The surge in violence is not just inflicted on others: self harm has risen by 12% from the previous year, with over 41,000 incidents per year – and with approximately 2,800 of these incidents leaving people requiring hospital treatment.
Whilst the number of deaths in custody has fallen slightly, from 324 in the previous year to 300, 77 of these were described as ‘self-inflicted’, and three of the deaths were murders. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called the reduction in deaths ‘encouraging’, but added, ‘there is no room for complacency when it remains the case that a prisoner dies by suicide every five days.’
These statistics come as the overcrowding crisis in prisons reaches crisis point: it was revealed by the MoJ in April that 68% of prisons were housing more inmates than their certified normal accommodation, with some holding more than 50% above the recommended population levels.
The prison population has doubled over the last 20 years, and is only set to increase as new sentencing guidelines that could raise punishments for offences including terrorism and domestic abuse are considered.
This, combined with the substantial reduction in the overall number of prison staff, has contributed to what Mark Day, head of policy at the Prison Reform Trust, has called ‘the ongoing and longstanding deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons’.
‘With prison numbers projected to increase, declining levels of safety will be very difficult to turn around without a concerted effort by ministers to take the pressure off the system by reducing prison numbers,’ he said. As reported in The Independent, Justice Secretary David Lidington has announced his plans to combat this epidemic: £100 million will be invested to increase frontline staff and put more officers on wings. So far, the Government has recruited an extra 1,290 officers – half of its target. Another £2 million is being spent on body cameras, in the hope that they will be a ‘visible deterrent’ against violence and also help prosecutions, and new handcuffs and pepper spray will be introduced.
‘Violence against our dedicated staff will never be tolerated which is why I am supporting a bill to increase sentences for those who attack emergency workers, including prison officers,’ Lidington said. ‘I have been clear that it will take time, but I am determined to tackle the issues that undermine prison safety.’
Eleanor is an aspiring barrister and currently a legal intern with Global Rights Compliance, an organisation committed to enhancing compliance with international human rights standards