Austerity cuts blamed for prisons ‘crisis’

Exclusive: Soaring inmate numbers and an increase in violence are blamed on biting austerity measures

Deputy Political Editor

The prison system is in deepening crisis, with soaring numbers of inmates and worrying increases in assaults and disturbances behind bars and the problems will intensify as austerity measures continue to bite, new research warns.

In just two weeks the jail population has leapt by 500 in England and Wales and tens of thousands of offenders are held in huge “warehouse” jails, a report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) discloses.

Nearly two-thirds of jails are overcrowded, according to the Ministry of Justice’s own definition, stoking up tensions among inmates and piling pressure on overstretched prison officers.

The bleak assessment came in the PRT’s annual analysis of the state of the prison system. Director Juliet Lyon said: “These latest figures reveal a prison service having to cope with unprecedented strain. Ministers must heed the warning signs.”

The PRT said the pressures were boiling over more frequently into violence. The prison service’s “gold command”, the group brought in to combat the most serious trouble, was convened every fourth day in 2013-14, a rise of 153 per cent in just two years.

Editorial: Cost-cutting has compromised safety and rehab

A total of 1,575 serious assaults took place in prisons last year, the highest number for a decade and a rise of more than 300 over the previous 12 months. Meanwhile, 23,183 incidents of self-harm were recorded among inmates, a slight increase over the year before. In 2013 there were 215 deaths in custody, the highest number on record.

Last Friday, the jail population stood at 84,305, which represented an increase of more than 500, the equivalent of a small local prison’s capacity, in just a fortnight.

England and Wales now has an imprisonment rate of 149 per 100,000 of the population, compared with 100 in France and 77 In Germany.

According to the PRT, more than 40 per cent locked up in jails with a capacity of more than 1,000, with the proportion rising to nearly half with the construction of “super-prisons”. A 2,000-bed “titan” is planned in Wrexham to ease the pressure on the prison system in the North-West of England and North Wales.

The PRT claimed problems would intensify because the Ministry of Justice faces further cuts of 10 per cent to spending, amounting to a cut of £2.4bn since the Coalition came to office. It added that controls on recruitment, high levels of staff sickness and the closure of smaller prisons had combined to create a system “stretched to its limit”. The cutbacks have reduced the amount of time inmates can spend on “purposeful activity”, it says.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:  “We are making prisons more effective and cheaper to run – not by cutting services or reducing quality but by fundamentally changing the way we operate.”

Analysis: Ministers must heed warnings

Juliet Lyon

Rocketing prison numbers, a shocking surge in assaults and deaths by suicide in custody, fewer staff, less constructive activity and unacceptably high reconviction rates are the flashing warning lights that ministers must heed. To avert a crisis, they must check the bruising pace of change in the justice system and pay proper attention to ensuring that we have decent, safe prisons.

Over 40 per cent of prisoners are now held in institutions of 1,000 places or more and nearly two thirds of prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded. An over-reliance on the use of imprisonment while slashing prison budgets and warehousing ever greater numbers overseen by fewer staff is no way to transform rehabilitation.

Juliet Lyon is director of the Prison Reform Trust

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

£35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Recruitment Genius: Electrician

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A qualified electrician require...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Researcher

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks