Journalism, News

‘Our prisons have become death traps’

The dramatic  reports from the Ministry of Justice and the National Offenders Management Service will come as no surprise to anyone connected with the Prison Service.

For the last 18 months or more, the overwhelming story in our prisons has been one of mounting violence and insecurity, brought on by over-crowding, cuts to jobs and services, and a Government led programme to toughen up the “privileges” afforded to inmates.

The two reports published today show how this toxic mix has impacted on prison life over the last 12 months.

  • Overall, deaths in custody are up 24% – from 181 to 225
  • Self-inflicted deaths have gone up to their highest rate in a decade, up from 52 to 88 – an increase 69% in a year
  • Among male inmates, self-harm is also up from 16,399 to 17,474 (an increase 6.6% in a year)
  • Assaults (male) have gone from 13,573 to 14,491 (up 6.8% in a year)
  • Serious assaults (male) up from 1,277 to 1,661 (up 30% in a year)
  • Assaults on staff (male) up from 2,787 to 3,201 (up 14.9%)
  • Hospital attendances (male) up from 1407 to 1527 (up 8.5% in a year)

The NOMS report is equally bleak, with more than a fifth of prisons in England and Wales now seen as a “concern”.

In covering this story for VICE, I met dozens of people who told me the same thing. From inmates and governors, to lawyers and charity workers, the message was clear: the Prison Service was nearly at breaking point. Now, with the head of the Howard League for Penal Reform saying our jails have become “death traps”, it appears we’ve reached it.

Features, Journalism

The Prison Service is in Crisis

Photo: Joe Sandler Clarke

Photo: Joe Sandler Clarke

This is Lee Jarman.

His step-brother was found hanged in his cell at HMP Woodhill on the 22nd of May, 2013. He was 30 years old and had a long history of mental health problems, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was also a regular self-harmer and had made a number of attempts to kill himself in the past. Despite all this, the staff at Woodhill felt he posed little risk of self-harm and suicide.

Kevin’s death is symptomatic of broader problems in our prisons.

Deaths in prison custody reached an all-time high in 2013. With morale low, prisons short of staff, violence on the rise and the government announcing that an extra 440 inmates will have to be placed in already over-crowded cells by August, writing for VICE I found that the Prison Service has reached a tipping point.

You can read Lee’s here on VICEUK and find out about the crisis in the Prison Service by reading my investigation here.