07:33, July 25 178 0 theguardian.com

2019-07-25 07:33:04
Assault and self-harm hit record levels in jails in England and Wales

Assaults and incidents of self-harm in prisons in England and Wales have reached new highs, prompting fresh warnings that inmates are being failed by authorities.

Self-harm incidents rose 24% to 57,968 in the year to March 2019, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures published on Thursday. Over the same period the number of assaults increased by 11% to 34,425.

Assaults on staff also jumped to record levels, up 15% to 10,311, and in the 12 months to June 2019 the number of suicides rose from 81 to 86.

The latest quarterly figures continue a trend of rising levels of violence and self-harm in prisons, which, the Inquest charity says, has taken place despite added investment and scrutiny.

The director of Inquest, Deborah Coles, said: “Appalling inspection reports, damning inquest findings, and statistics on yet more deaths, have become so regular that those in power seem to forget these are human beings to whom the state owed a duty of care.

“Deaths, self-harm, violence, impoverished regimes and conditions are the daily reality of the prison system. Failing institutions in a failing system and an accountability vacuum that allows dangerous practises to continue.”

In children’s jails, there was a 30% increase in self-harm incidents, while the number of such incidents requiring hospital attendance across the prison estate increased by 5% to 3,261.

The number of assaults in children’s jails hit a record high of 2,331 – an 18% increase – in the 12 months to March 2019. On Tuesday, the MoJ announced a temporary ban on sending children to Feltham young offender institution after a review uncovered soaring levels of violence and self-harm.

Serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in all jails decreased by 2% to 3,017 but serious assaults on staff increased by 12% to 1,002. The MoJ cautioned that a change in the way assaults on staff were recorded may have increased recording of such incidents overall.

This month, the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, called the number of prison suicides a “scandal” and said an independent inquiry should be considered. The then prisons minister, Rory Stewart, pledged in December last year to resign if violence in prisons did not fall.

The latest figures showed a slight decrease in the overall number of deaths in prison in the year to June 2019, from 311 to 309, which included 55 recorded as “other”, 50 of which were awaiting further information prior to being classified.

Inquest said many of these deaths also raised questions, highlighting that last year parliament’s health and social care committee inquiry on healthcare in prisons concluded that “so-called natural cause deaths too often reflect serious lapses in care”.

Coles said: “The new justice secretary [Robert Buckland] must act upon what are clear solutions – tackle sentencing policy, reduce the prison population and redirect resources to community health and welfare services. This, however, requires bold and decisive action at a political and institutional level, not more empty words.”

Her comments were echoed by the Reform thinktank, which urged the government to invest in prison safety and rehabilitation.