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.