'Disturbing' Levels of Prison Deaths, Self Harm And Assaults

‘Disturbing’ Levels of Prison Deaths, Self Harm And Assaults Are A ‘National Scandal’

Official figures showing that deaths, self harm and assaults in prisons in England and Wales are at record levels, have been described as a ‘national scandal’ and ‘disturbing’ by campaigners urging the government to take action to address the escalation in the welfare of prisoners. 

Deaths Increase By 10%, Self Harm By 23% And Assaults By 20%

Credit: Pixabay

The Ministry of Justice figures reveal that in the 12 months to December 2018, there were 325 deaths in prison custody in England and Wales, an increase of 10% compared to the year before. Ninety two of the 325 deaths were self-inflicted deaths, an increase of 32% compared to the previous year, when there were 70 self-inflicted deaths.

There were 52 814 incidents of self harm, a record high and an increase of 23% compared to the previous year.

There were 52 814 incidents of self harm, a record high and an increase of 23% compared to the previous year. While assaults and serious assaults also surged to record levels with 33,803 recorded assault incidents, a 20% year-on-year increase, with a six per cent increase in serious assaults to 3949.

Assaults on prison staff have also reached record levels, jumping by 29% over a year to 10,085. Of these, 907 or 10% were serious assaults – highlighting that it’s not only prisoners whose health, safety and welfare is at risk in England and Wales’ prison estates.

Campaigners: ‘Disturbing’ Figures A ‘National Scandal’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HM_Prison_Bedford#/media/File:BedfordGaol.JPGIn September 2018, the government took emergency action over Bedford Prison (above) and issued an Urgent Notification Notice Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Campaigners have cited the figures and increases in deaths, assault and self harm as a ‘national scandal’ and evidence of the failing prison system.

Deborah Coles of Inquest, a charity focusing on state-related deaths, said“The government have long been on notice about the perilous state of our prisons, and yet historically high numbers of deaths are allowed to continue. This is a national scandal. How many more deaths will it take before the government and prison service face up to their duties of care for the health, safety and welfare of prisoners?”

Quick fixes have not worked. Bold and decisive action is needed to tackle sentencing policy, reduce the prison population and redirect resources to community services. This is the only way to stem the rising toll of deaths, self-harm and assaults that detrimentally impact on everyone in the prison estate.”

Mark Day of the Prison Reform Trust, described the figures as ‘disturbing’ and highlighted how plans to give pepper spray to all prison staff could exacerbate violence.

“These disturbing figures show every indicator of prison safety to be pointing the wrong way, with a rise in numbers of natural and self-inflicted deaths and record levels of self-harm and assaults.

The measures the government have put in place to improve prison safety, including increasing staff numbers and the roll out of a new key worker model, have not yet succeeded in reversing this rising trend. Plans to roll out PAVA spray to all prison staff on the closed adult male estate risk making a volatile situation even worse.”

Prison Officers’ Association: ‘Not Surprised Or Shocked’ By Latest Statistics

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/USMC-100201-M-3762C-001.jpg
New psychoactive substances such as spice have contributed to the rise in self-inflicted deaths and injuries say the Prison Officers Association  Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA), the trade union representing prison, correctional workers and secure psychiatric workers, told RightsInfo, they are in no way ‘surprised or shocked’ by the Ministry of Justice figures. They also highlighted a growing problem with the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), such as spice, in prisons as a significant contributing factor to the rise in self-inflicted deaths and injuries.

These figures again question the ability of the government to provide safe, secure and decent prisons.

Glyn Travis, Prison Officers Association

Glyn Travis of the POA told RightsInfo: “The Prison Officers’ Association are not surprised or shocked at the latest safety statistics from the Ministry of Justice. These figures again question the ability of the government to provide safe, secure and decent prisons.

The high levels of violence and debt amongst the prison population linked with the use of new psychoactive substances is without a doubt a significant factor to the increase in self-inflicted deaths and injuries.”

In September 2018, the Prison Officers’ Association instructed prison officers to walk out in protest over serious concerns around violence and safety in prisons.

The POA believes its members are in serious danger due to ‘an unprecedented decline in health and safety standards, security and safety in prisons in England and Wales’ and highlighted that assaults on prison staff have increased 197% since 2010 and there are, on average, 85 assaults a day against prison staff, totalling 31 025 per year.

Travis challenged Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, to commit significant funds to reform the prison system.

“The Prisons Minister has vowed to resign if his ten prison pilot fails but he hasn’t committed treasury funds to the changes if it works, it’s more smoke and mirrors,” he told RightsInfo.

Minister For Justice: Violence And Self Harm ‘Unacceptably High’

https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/35241217146Minister for Justice, David Gauke Credit: Number 10 Flickr

The Minister for Justice, David Gauke admitted the levels of violence and self harm in prison was ‘unacceptably high’

He told the Guardian: ‘Violence and self-harm in our prisons is unacceptably high and these figures underline why we are spending an extra £70m to fight the drugs plaguing prisons and boost security, while also training over 4,000 new prison officers in handling the complex offender population.”

Clearly, there is a huge amount yet to be done but I am determined to cut the violence so prisons can focus on rehabilitating the offenders who will be back out at some point. And while these figures are disturbing, I am optimistic that the measures we have been putting in place will help us to reduce violence and ultimately better protect the public.”

In August 2018, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart pledged to resign if the measures he introduced to reduce violence and drugs in ten prisons, failed.

Campaigners have highlighted the prison system in England and Wales is in crisis, with record levels of assault, self harm and drug seizures. In 2018, four prisons – Exeter, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bedford – were issued with an Urgent Notification Notice and brought under government control because they were failing.

In August 2018, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart pledged to resign if the measures he introduced to reduce violence and drugs in ten prisons, failed.

Featured image: Prisons Minister Rory Stewart Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

Rahul Verma

News Editor
Rahul is Rights Info's News and Social Media Editor. He is an experienced reporter and editor with a passion for social justice and equality. To email Rahul, drop him a line. View all posts by Rahul Verma.
‘Disturbing’ Levels of Prison Deaths, Self Harm And Assaults Are A ‘National Scandal’
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