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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Administrator

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of this mu...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - £40,000 - £70,000 OTE

£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: (Senior) IT Business Analyst - London - European projects

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Project Manager

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness