Prisons hit by record levels of violence

31 Jan 19

The justice secretary has admitted that record levels of self-harm, assaults and attacks on staff in prisons are “disturbing”.

David Gauke’s comments came after the Ministry of Justice released figures showing the number of deaths in prisons in England and Wales reached 325 in 2018 – a 10% increase on the year before.

Of these deaths, four were homicides compared to three in 2017, with the number of suicides rising from 70 in 2017 to 92 in 2018, according to government data.

In the 12 months to December 2018 there were 162 deaths due to natural causes, down by 15% on the year before.

However, in the 12 months to September 2018 there were record levels of self-harm and record numbers of assaults among prisoners and against staff.

The figures released today show that there were 52,814 incidents of self-harm – a 23% increase from the previous year. The proportion of these incidents which led to hospitalisation increased by 4%.

Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults shot up by 18% to 24,138 between September 2017 and September 2018. Over the same period, assaults on staff increased by 29% with the total number hitting 10,085.

Gauke said: “Violence and self-harm in our prisons is unacceptably high and these figures underline why we are spending an extra £70m to fight the drugs plaguing prisons and boost security while also training over 4,000 new prison officers in handling the complex offender population.

“Clearly there is huge amount yet to be done but I am determined to cut the violence so prisons can focus on rehabilitating the offenders who will be back out at some point.

“And while these figures are disturbing, I am optimistic that the measures we have been putting in place will help us to reduce violence and ultimately better protect the public.”

Emily Andrews, associate director at Institute for Government, told PF: “These latest violence statistics show that, despite increases in the number of prison officers, our prisons are still in a state of crisis. This presents a real challenge to the government going into the 2019 Spending Review.

“In August, prisons minister Rory Stewart said he would resign in a year if violence at 10 low-performing prisons had not improved. The latest data tells us that, between June and September, violence in six of them rose. So there’s a long way to go.”

CIPFA-backed analysis from October highlighted prisons as a key area among the public services that was struggling due to funding pressures.

The Performance Tracker report undertaken in conjunction with the Institute for Government think-tank noted that despite getting more money in the 2016 autumn Budget, prisons still received 16% less funding than in 2009–10.

PF reported in December that HMP Birmingham had been deemed “exceptionally violent and fundamentally unsafe” by inspectors.

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