Severe cuts tip overstuffed prisons into crisis

28 of the UK's 126 jails are judged to be “of concern”

Deputy Political Editor

Prisons have been hit by a tide of violence, with soaring levels of attacks, suicides and self-harm among offenders crammed into cells, an array of damning Ministry of Justice figures have disclosed.

More inmates are absconding, fewer sex offenders completing treatment courses and nearly 20 per cent of jails in England and Wales are judged to be struggling to cope with the pressure on them.

Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, was warned the bleak picture proved the prison system was close to breaking point. Critics said jails had become “death traps” and claimed the crisis was an inevitable result of deep spending cuts during the austerity drive.

The department said almost 14,500 assaults were recorded in the 12 months to the end of March, a rise of seven per cent, with even steeper increases in serious attacks and violence against prison staff. The disturbing trend emerged as it emerged that an officer had part of his ear bitten off this week by an inmate at Nottingham Prison.

The MoJ revealed the number of prison suicides reached a nine-year high, with 88 inmates killing themselves, compared with 52 during the previous 12 months. Rates of self-harm were up by seven per cent and are now more than a quarter higher than in 2010.

The department’s performance tables show that overall standards at 28 of the 126 jails are judged to be “of concern”, more than twice as many as last year.

They include the three opened since the election – Oakwood, near Wolverhampton, and Isis and Thameside, both of which are in south London – as well as Bristol, Brixton and Leeds prisons.

The performance of another jail, Brinsford young offenders institution in Staffordshire is rated as being of “serious concern”.

A total of 225 inmates escaped or absconded from jails last year, an increase of 21, including 137 who walked out of open prisons. Police announced that Wayne Whitley, who is serving a life sentence for a series of violent armed robberies, had disappeared from Kirkham open prison in Lancashire.

Wayne Whitley, serving life for armed robbery, has disappeared from a prison in Lancashire Wayne Whitley, serving life for armed robbery, has disappeared from a prison in Lancashire (PA)
The jail population in England and Wales stands at 85,730, an increase of 1,678 in 12 months and a rise of 69 in the last week alone.

The national crowding rate was 22.9 per cent in 2013/14, meaning nearly one in four prisoners is being held in a cell where the number of occupants exceeds its “uncrowded” capacity.

In a further blow for Mr Grayling’s pledge to boost rehabilitation, the statistics showed falls in the number of sex offenders completing courses designed to tackle their behaviour and the number of inmates finishing drug rehabilitation courses.

The Justice Secretary said: “In this current economic climate all public services are required to help ease the burden. We are not exempt from that and have reduced our overall budget by 24 per cent, through sensible and well-considered reforms, commended by the National Audit Office.

“As with any significant period of change, coupled with prison population increases higher than expected, it has been a challenge. We are responding to and managing the additional pressures but prisons are still running safe and decent regimes.”

But Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: “The Government is trying to hide the sheer scale of the failings in the Ministry of Justice from the public by trying to pretend there is not a problem, let alone a crisis.

He added: “This is all evidence of the incompetence of David Cameron's Government. The evidence is piling up that the Government has caused a prison crisis. The courses, training and healthcare needed to make sure prisoners are reformed aren't happening.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Prisons are becoming places of extreme violence as men are caged with nothing to do all day, and in some terrible cases they have become death traps.”

Glyn Travis, spokesman for the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “The prison population is increasing and despite changes introduced by the Ministry of Justice we still believe inappropriate prisoners are being sent to open conditions as the service tries to manage its available cellular accommodation.”

Banged to rights: The worst prisons

Of serious concern

Brinsford Young Offenders Institution, near Wolverhampton. Opened in 1991, holds about 580 young adults aged up 21. Run by HM Prison Service. Recorded 59 assaults on staff last year.

Of concern

Oakwood Prison, near Wolverhampton. Opened in 2012, with around 1,600 category C prisoners. Managed by G4S. 137 staff assaults last year.

Thameside Prison, South London. Opened in 2012, holds up to 900 category B prisoners. Managed by Serco. Criticised by inspectors last year over levels of violence and its restricted regime.

Isis Prison, south London. Opened 2010, holds around 620 category C prisoners aged up to 25. Run by HM Prison Service. Has previously admitted problems with gangs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn