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Prisons 'unacceptably violent and more dangerous'

New psychoactive substances 'having a dramatic and destabilising effect' in many prisons

Prisons have not improved in key areas with some getting even more violent, a new report states.

Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, published his first annual report this week and also highlighted the growing problem of dealing with prisoners using new psychoactive substances (NPS).

The report adds many people in various forms of detention are suffering from mental health issues which are not being properly addressed.

Based on National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, the report reveals:

  • during 2015 there were over 20,000 assaults in prisons, an increase of 27 per cent over the previous year
  • serious assaults have risen by 31 per cent, up to nearly 3,000
  • the number of apparent murders increased
  • there were over 32,000 incidents of self-harm in 2015, an increase of 25 per cent on the previous year
  • there were 100 self-inflicted deaths between April 2015 and March 2016 - a 27 per cent increase.

Mr Clarke said: “Despite the sterling efforts of many who work in the Prison Service at all levels, there is a simple and unpalatable truth about far too many of our prisons. They have become unacceptably violent and dangerous places.

“A large part of this violence is linked to the harm caused by NPS which are having a dramatic and destabilising effect in many of our prisons.

“The effects of these drugs can be unpredictable and extreme. Their use can be linked to attacks on other prisoners and staff, self-inflicted deaths, serious illness and life-changing self-harm.”

The report says while various aspects of the problem are being addressed through criminalising possession of NPS, there is no overall national strategy for dealing with the problem.

As a result NPS-fuelled instability has restricted the ability of staff to get prisoners safely to and from education, training and other activities.

Mr Clarke says the implications of this for a reform programme based on enhancing the role of education in rehabilitation and resettlement are obvious.

A high number of people in various forms of detention are contending with mental health issues which require professional assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Often those who cannot be accommodated on a wing, either for their own safety or that of others, find themselves housed in the segregation unit.

Talking about the issue of those with mental health issues being segregated, Mr Clarke added: “No-one could sensibly argue that a segregation unit is a therapeutic environment or a suitable place to hold people with mental health issues.

"These three issues of violence, drugs and mental health will, on many occasions, find themselves intertwined. They are, in turn, compounded by the perennial problems of overcrowding, poor physical environments in ageing prisons and inadequate staffing.”

From April 2015 to March 2016, the Inspectorate published 75 individual inspection reports on prisons, police custody suites, immigration removal centres and other custodial establishments.

Thematic reports were published on substance misuse in adult prisons, the restraint of children in custody, court custody, the Close Supervision Centre system, failures of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), and prison communications.

Joint thematic reports were published on children in custody and the needs of victims in the criminal justice system.  

Mr Clarke did, however, praise prison staff, adding: “Despite the troubles that afflict prisons at the moment, there are large numbers of dedicated, courageous, skilful and experienced staff who care deeply about the safety of those in custody, who want to improve the conditions of detention, and are focused on the rehabilitation of prisoners.

"Thanks to their efforts there are countless examples of good practice to be found in all places of detention. All too often this good practice fails to gain the recognition it deserves. I have asked inspectors to pay particular attention to good practice and to make specific mention of it in reports.”