07:35, April 27 360 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-27 07:35:03
Prison statistics reveal big rise in assaults on staff and self-harm

The scale of the prison crisis in England and Wales is revealed by the latest annual figures showing a 38% rise in assaults on staff and a 24% rise in self-harm incidents in the past year to record levels.

The latest Ministry of Justice safety in custody statistics also show that there were 113 self-inflicted deaths in the 12 months to this March – an increase of 11 over the previous year.

Troublingly the number of prison suicides included 10 women – far higher than the previous number of two to three a year. There were also three murders behind bars in England and Wales over the same period.

Prison assaults and incidents of self-harm

Ministers will try to take some hope from the fact that the figures for the most recent three months show a fall in the number of prison deaths and a 4% fall in assaults, including in both prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and assaults on staff.

The latest quarter’s figures show the first fall in the level of prison assaults since 2014, but justice ministry statisticians warn that such quarterly figures need to be treated with caution due to greater volatility and potential for seasonal effects.

The rate of prison suicides has more than doubled since 2013 from 0.6 to 1.3 per 1,000 prisoners, while among female prisoners it has soared from 1 to 2.6 per 1,000. The number of self-inflicted deaths for the 12 months to March 2017 was 113, slightly down on the record 119 recorded in 2016. Justice ministry officials said the 113 prison suicides were still the fourth highest on record for a 12-month period.

Number of suicides among prisoners

The statistics show that incidents of self-harm reached a record high of 40,161 in 2016 – up 24% or 7,848 above the previous year. The number of incidents in which the prisoner required hospital treatment also rose 21% to 2,740.

The level of assaults also continued to rise in 2016, reaching a record level of 26,022 – up 27% or 5,504 more incidents on the previous year. Assaults on staff were up 385 to 6,844.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The message from these deeply alarming numbers could not be any clearer. An overcrowded prison system cannot cope with the number of people it is expected to hold.

“People are being maimed and dying in unprecedented numbers as a direct consequence. Two years of positive rhetoric from the government about prison reform has done nothing to stop a relentless decline in safety. There is no end in sight, and a new government must make a reduction in imprisonment a top priority,” he said.

Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform echoed his concerns: “These latest figures on safety in custody are unutterably terrible. It is frankly shameful that such human misery under the supposed care of the state is allowed to continue in the 21st century.

“The general election is only six weeks away and the political parties must address this crisis directly. By taking bold but sensible steps to reduce the prison population, we can save lives and prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair,” she said.

The Liberal Democrat prisons spokesman, Jonathan Marks, added that the figures were a damning indictment of the government’s inability to get violence in prisons under control.

“Theresa May’s vanity election has meant that prison and courts bill, which would have delivered much needed reform has had to be shelved – this is the Tories yet again putting party ahead of country. Unless they tackle the overcrowding in prisons by reducing the numbers I fear we will continue to see an ever-increasing number of deaths, self-harm and violence.

“Those who work in our prisons deserve better than this but they continue to be ignored by Theresa May and her ministers, who have not given them the extra staff and resources they need,” he said.

The Ministry of Justice said it was unable to comment because of the restrictions imposed by “purdah” during the general election period.