Prison system in crisis: officer numbers slashed 30 per cent under coalition

The number of prison officers has been cut by nearly a third in just three years.

The number of prison officers has been cut by nearly a third in just three years, according to a new report by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The study, ‘Breaking Point’, shows that in some prisons the number of prison officers has actually halved, while 18 prisons have closed or turned into immigration removal centres since the coalition government came to power.

This has led to the loss of 6,500 prison places at a time when demand is actually rising to well over 85,000 inmates.

More worryingly, rioting has increased ‘dramatically’, with the number of call-outs for the prison riot squad up 72 per cent between 2010 and 2013. Staff cuts have been just as severe at high-security prisons as elsewhere. Officer numbers are now below 20,000, from around 27,000 in 2010.

The Howard League warns that austerity has led to prisoners spending less time in meaningful activity – including library visits and association periods – as often no one is available to manage them.

The organisation argues that:

“The combination of fewer prison officers, fewer cells and more prisoners has created a severely understaffed and overcrowded prison system which is now at breaking point.

“Self-inflicted deaths, incidences of self-harm and assaults on prison staff have all increased” while prisons have become less productive. Deaths in custody were up 23% to 74 between 2012 and 2013.

“Numbers of suicides, assaults and riots will continue to increase rapidly if urgent action is not taken to increase the numbers of officers, reduce the number of prisoners and ease overcrowding.

“Urgent action is needed to ease the strain on the prison system. The Ministry of Justice must take action to reduce the prison population and increase prison officer numbers.”

The Howard League claim we now have a ‘chronically overcrowded prison estate’, breaching the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

Yet the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reportedly has no plans to reduce overcrowding as they say it would be too expensive. At the same time, despite the government’s stated focus on ‘rehabilitation’, they are refusing to switch the focus on non-violent offences from jail terms to community sentences which would save millions.

The prison system is now at ‘breaking point’ – it’s time the government acts before they have another scandal on their hands.

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