Not a single young offenders institution in the country is safe for children
There have been ‘startling increases’ in violence of all kinds in UK prisons thanks to staffing cuts, the chief inspector of prisons has found.
In his annual report, published today, Peter Clarke said conditions had deteriorated across the board: In men’s prisons, women’s prisons, and young offenders institutions.
Assaults on staff were up and 113 prisoners took their own lives in the year to March 2017.
Clarke, a former head of counter-terrorism for the Metropolitan Police, said a list of well-documented problems – including the prevalence of drugs inside prisons, debt, bullying, and isolation – were being compounded by staffing levels “that are simply too low to keep order and at the same time run a decent regime”.
In the space of a year the percentage of adult male prisons judged to be ‘good’ or ‘reasonably good’ fell from 78 per cent to 49 percent.
Young offenders institutions deteriorated the most – with not a single establishment inspected in England or Wales deemed safe to hold children and young people.
“The fact that we had reached a position where we could not judge any institution to be sufficiently safe was bad enough, but the speed of decline has been staggering. In 2013–14 we found that nine out of 12 institutions were graded as reasonably good or good for safety”.
Clarke described seeing men locked up for 23 hours a day, in shared cells where they were required to eat all their meals beside unscreened toilets.
“On several occasions prisoners have pointed out insect and vermin infestations to me. In many prisons I have seen shower and lavatory facilities that are filthy and dilapidated, but with no credible or affordable plans for refurbishment.”
He said he saw many prisoners with injuries from self harming and many with a learning disability or mental impairment.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the report proved what her organisation had been saying for year.
“Prisons are out of control. A prisoner dies by suicide every three days. Children are locked up with nothing to do for 23 hours a day. Record levels of violence mean that men are too scared to leave their cells. Women are injuring themselves more and more. Staff fear for their lives. Conditions are filthy. Enough is enough.”
She said prisons for children should be closed, describing the Chief Inspector’s conclusion that a tragedy is inevitable unless action is taken as “one of the starkest warnings we have heard about children in prison.”
“Chronic overcrowding in adult prisons, together with deep cuts to staffing, has created a toxic mix of death, violence and human misery. But we cannot build our way out of this mess.
“Building more prisons only causes problems to grow; it does not solve them. Bold but sensible action to reduce the prison population would prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”
Charlotte England is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.