Use of riot squads in jails has soared amid overcrowding crisis

 

Deputy Political Editor

The number of times that officers trained to quell riots have been called in to calm tensions in prisons has soared over the last year, Ministry of Justice figures disclosed today.

The rapidly growing use of the prison service’s National Tactical Response Group (NRTG) prompted warnings of an imminent crisis behind bars in England and Wales.

Penal reformers blamed the surge on a “toxic mix” of a growing prison population, inmates being locked up for longer periods and cuts to staff levels.

Numbers of call-outs have grown by more than 50 per cent between 2012 and 2103.

The MoJ said the squad was drafted in 151 times in the first nine months of the year, compared with 129 during the whole of 2012.

They were called in earlier this month when prisoners went on the rampage at Maidstone prison in Kent, as well as at Full Sutton in North Yorkshire in May when an officer was taken hostage.

The squad has also been deployed in a succession of other lower-level incidents with the task of stopping simmering disputes escalating into violence. Nearly half of all prisons have had call-outs in the last three years.

The former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, raised fears the situation could be as serious as in 1990 when a riot at Strangeways in Manchester triggered trouble in jails across the country.

“It there is a major riot, it will be copycatted. This is an alarm call,” he told the Independent.

“There is definite overcrowding. Matched with that, there is no increase in activities prisoners can undertake. Therefore far too many are left with absolutely nothing to do.”

Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, who obtained the statistics, said the figures spotlighted the “true scale of the growing crisis in our prisons”.

He said: “All this government’s talk of a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ is but a distant memory. Instead prisons are more overcrowded and dangerous than in May 2010, with prisoners spending as much time festering in their cells as they did three years ago.

“This means not working or attending training courses which in turn means less chance of being rehabilitated or paying something back to society.”

Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Drastic cuts to prison staff and budgets, a far-reaching reorganisation of the secure estate and a steep rise in prison numbers driven by tough political talk could prove to be a toxic mix.”

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We are concerned there is creeping pressure on the prison system and this will create more disturbances and disorder.

“At a time when the number in custody is rising, the Ministry of Justice is facing a dilemma – either use police cells or cram ever more people into combustible prisons. Either approach is a waste of money and risks lives.”

The Justice Minister, Jeremy Wright, said there had been a recent “slight rise” in callouts.

But he added. “This is mainly due to minor incidents such as prisoners protesting by climbing onto the netting between landings.

“NTRG staff have the specialist skills required to deal with such incidents which accounted for 68 per cent of all the callouts in the past year and they are frequently called to attend as a precautionary measure.

“Not all callouts result in engagement by NTRG staff, with a number of situations being resolved locally. Of the 151 incidents NTRG attended up to September 2013, 75 per cent were resolved by surrender.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map