Prisons in England and Wales ‘underfunded and full to bursting’

10 Oct 17

Prisons in England and Wales are “full to bursting”, underfunded, understaffed and recent reforms have “failed miserably” to address problems with the service.

This is the scathing assessment of Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors’ Association, which was delivered at the association’s annual conference this morning.

“The government must be brave and reduce the prison population and don’t worry about votes,” she said.

“Don’t dabble, just do it because morally it is the right thing to do.”

She called on the government to scrap 12-month sentences “which don’t work”, improve “insufficient” pay and conditions for prison staff at all levels and recruit thousands more officers while investing in the prison estate.

It comes after the government announced that it was ending the 1% public sector pay cap for prison and police officers after seven years of austerity. Although, the rise will still be below inflation.

The government’s prison estate transformation programme is now compromised because prisons that were due to close to be rebuilt by 2020 will now remain open until 2019, according to Albutt.

She said investment into the prison estate was needed “as a matter of urgency” to make it fit for purpose.

Official figures show the prison population is 86,250 - just 1,211 short of the useable operational capacity.

Albutt stated violence, suicide and self-harm are the “worst we have ever seen”, while staffing issues mean prisons are unable to provide rehabilitative regimes.

She said some proposed government reforms were laudable, such as getting prisoners to work 40 hours a week, tightening security to prevent drugs from getting into prisons and offering drug addiction services on special drug recovering wings.

But Albutt added: “Initiatives like these require money and investment, both in infrastructure and people to deliver them.”

She said it had been “incredibly challenging” to recruit enough prison officers as there had only been a net increase of 75 prison officers in 2016/17 compared with the 4,000 she said were needed to bring staffing levels to full.

A prison service spokesperson said: “We have already taken immediate action to stabilise prisons; including investing £1.3bn to modernise the estate and significantly increasing staff numbers by recruiting a net 2,500 extra prison officers.

“We are on track to meet this target by December 2018.”

Earlier this year the Ministry of Justice announced £100m to recruit more frontline staff and plans to build five prisons to house 5,000 inmates.

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