British Prisons See Record Levels of Violence

British Prisons See Record Levels of Violence

Incidents of self-harm in England and Wales rose 24 percent to 57,968, in this year through March, while the number of assaults rose 11 percent to a record high of 34,425 compared with the previous year, according to quarterly Ministry of Justice statistics.

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Why you should care

In the midst of an overcrowding crisis, self-harm and assault are both at record highs in U.K. jails.

Sixteen prisons in England and Wales are ranked of “serious concern,” the most critical level of performance, according to a new assessment by the Ministry of Justice. That is the highest proportion since ratings began.

A narrower measure looking at incidents of self-harm and violence found the performance at 86 percent of jails was ranked either of “concern,” the second-lowest measure, or “serious concern.”

Self-harm and violence have reached a record high in prisons across England and Wales.

Incidents of self-harm rose 24 percent to 57,968, in this year through March, while the number of assaults rose 11 percent to a record high of 34,425 compared with the previous year, according to quarterly Ministry of Justice statistics.

Assaults on staff rose 15 percent to a record of 10,311, while the number of deaths in prison fell slightly to 309 fatalities, including 86 suicides, over the same period.

The Ministry of Justice says the levels of violence, suicide and self-harm were “unacceptably high,” adding: “We are spending an extra 70 million pounds [$86 million] to improve safety and decency, have recruited more than 4,700 more prison officers since 2016 and introduced the key-worker scheme — giving officers time to build the vital relationships that change lives and increase stability.”

Earlier this year a highly critical report by the parliamentary justice committee warned that prisons were in the grip of an “enduring crisis” caused by budget cuts and short-term policymaking.

Campaign groups have called for an urgent response, including reducing the number of offenders sentenced to prison and a focus on rehabilitation.

“The most effective way to cut crime is to reduce reoffending. That means investing in prison safety and rehabilitation to help offenders turn their lives around,” Charlotte Pickles, the director of Reform, a think tank focused on the public sector, says. “It also means keeping prison as a last resort.”

The latest data was published on the first day in office for Robert Buckland, the former prisons minister, who was appointed justice secretary in Wednesday’s Cabinet reshuffle. He replaces David Gauke, who resigned on Boris Johnson’s appointment as prime minister and used his final speech to call for an end to prison sentences of less than six months.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, says Buckland’s appointment would “provide continuity.”

The latest data also showed that just over a fifth of prisoners are being held in overcrowded conditions, while just under 18 percent of mandatory drug tests return a positive result.

Drug finds rose 44 percent compared with last year, while protests that included prisoners erecting barricades rose 24 percent.

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By Bethan Staton

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