Violence, self-harm rife in UK prisons amid continued govt cuts

Reuters/Peter Macdiarmid
Violence has reached new heights in prisons across England and Wales, as increasing numbers of jails are characterized by staff cuts, overcrowding and failed rehabilitation practices, Britain’s chief inspector of prisons warns.

In his annual report published on Tuesday, Nick Hardwick said too many jails in Britain are “places of violence, squalor and idleness.”

Citing official state statistics, the report revealed there were over 15,000 assaults in men’s prisons in England and Wales in 2014 - the highest figure in a decade.

Hardwick’s damning report also found that staff cuts and overcrowding in jails have had “significant” impact on Britain’s penal system, and have sparked increased numbers of attacks on prison staff and inmates.

The study revealed there were 1,466 serious assaults by the close of 2013 in UK prisons, compared with 2,009 at the end of 2014. It said the majority of these assaults were serious, with more weapons being used in 2014 than in 2013.

It also found many of these attacks were “fueled by the increased use of new psychoactive substances.”

Reflecting on Britain’s prison crisis, Hardwick said inmates are more likely to die in jails today than they were five years ago. He said murders, cases of self-harm, serious assaults and violence are on the rise in male prisons.

Hardwick, who will step down from his role in January 2016, said overcrowding is compounding these issues.

READ MORE: Overcrowded UK prisons are 'feeding crime' - study

Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform Andrew Neilson told RT Hardwick had delivered a “sobering verdict” on the state of UK prisons in his latest report.

The Howard League has been warning for some time that prisons are becoming increasingly unsafe and that prisoners spend too much time locked in their cells with nothing to do,” he said.

Neilson argued prison chiefs cannot cope with increased demand in prisons in the face of dwindling resources. He backed Hardwick’s findings, saying ministers must consider radical reforms to deal with overcrowding in prisons and allocate scant resources more wisely.

There are many people currently languishing in prison who need not be there,” Neilson added.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data published in March reveals three out of four men’s jails in the UK accommodate more inmates than they’re designed to.

Commenting on high levels of overcrowding at the time, Frances Cook of the Howard League for Penal Reform slammed government inaction, saying the government “must get a grip on a prison system in crisis.”

Crook also told the BBC prisoners are dying as a “direct result” of prison staff cuts.

Hardwick’s report said the government must find a way to bring down Britain’s prison population, which currently stands at 86,255.

He said badly needed rehabilitative reforms have yet to start in Britain, as prisoners spend their days cooped up in their cells watching “daytime TV.”

Hardwick said prison governors are “struggling” with government cuts, emphasizing that new Justice Secretary Michael Gove Michael Gove “has some huge challenges” ahead.

On Sunday, Gove indicated that he is eager reform Britain’s criminal justice system, with prisoner rehabilitation being a key concern.

He said those "languishing in prison" are "potential assets" who could be "productive and contribute" to society at large.