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Safety in prisons call

by Mark Rowe

A statistical bulletin by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows that prisons in England and Wales recorded 34,425 assault incidents – an 11 per cent rise on the previous year. There were some 24,541 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults; and 10,311 assaults on staff, a record high. The assaults were mainly in male establishments, though the number of incidents in female establishments increased by 21 per cent, from 1,257 to 1,517. As for the youth estate, it saw an 18pc increase in assaults (to 2,331 incidents, a high), a 39 pc increase in serious assaults (to 111 incidents), and a 47pc increase in serious assaults on staff.

In the 12 months to March 2019, in total there were 3,949 ‘serious assault’ incidents, up one per cent on the previous year, ‘serious’ defined as a sexual assault; requiring detention in outside hospital as an in-patient; or medical treatment for concussion or internal injuries; or a fracture, stabbing or the like.

For Safety in custody quarterly update to March 2019 visit the MoJ website.

Some 309 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to June 2019, compared with 311 the year before; the 309 included 86 through suicide (a rise from 81 the year before). According to the MoJ’s own prison performance ratings, 86 per cent of prisons in England and Wales are rated as having a performance of ‘concern’ or ‘serious concern’ as regards dealing with violence and self-injury. The prisons rated of ‘serious concern’ are Aylesbury, Bedford, Birmingham, Bristol, Chelmsford, Feltham, Liverpool, The Mount, Nottingham, Onley, Pentonville (pictured), Portland, Rochester, Wandsworth, Winchester and Wormwood Scrubs.


Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Every nine minutes, someone in prison hurts themselves. This is a truly shocking statistic. If the new Prime Minister was in any doubt about the urgent need to improve safety in prisons, today’s figures must surely alert him to the scale of the task at hand. Turning this around will require real focus, and for that reason it is welcome that the former prisons minister Robert Buckland has been promoted to the role of Secretary of State for Justice, to provide continuity, expertise and commitment to reform.

She said that simple measures, such as making sure people get a decent diet and exercise, can be done immediately. “There is clear evidence that gross overcrowding must be dealt with to embed safety and decency, and that means reducing the use of prison. They know what do to, now is the time to do it.”

For Labour, Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, complained of ‘Tory austerity’ that has ‘unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence throughout the prison system’. He said: “Violence has yet again risen to record highs – a shocking indictment of the government’s failure to prioritise the safety of staff, inmates and the wider public. The new Justice Secretary needs to move beyond the empty promises of his predecessors and finally get a grip of this prisons crisis. He should start by setting out an emergency plan with substantial new funds to make our prisons safe.”

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