Figures released today by the Ministry of Justice paint a complex picture of a prison service making heroic strides in some areas while struggling to cope with the impact of rising prison numbers and dramatic cuts to prison staff and budgets.
Commenting, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
“The tragic rise in the numbers of self-inflicted deaths in custody is the most vivid of the flashing warning signs of a prison service placed under unprecedented strain. Ministers must heed and not dismiss what the facts and figures are telling them. Slashing prison budgets while warehousing ever greater numbers in larger prisons overseen by fewer and less experienced staff is no way to transform rehabilitation.
“Good people have worked hard year on year to make prisons safer and more constructive places. In less than two years of thoughtless change and headline-grabbing policy, sharply rising levels of suicide and violence show just how far their work has been set back.”
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Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP delivered a speech last night (10 July 2014) outlining how the government is ensuring that people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and other support needs caught up in the criminal justice system are identified and diverted into appropriate healthcare and support services.
Click 'read more' to read a full transcript of the speech and download a copy of the Care not Custody briefing paper launched at the event.
The Prison Reform Trust has prepared a briefing (pdf) to assist Peers in the Second Reading debate on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is scheduled to take place on Monday 30 June.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is the fourth Ministry of Justice-led criminal justice bill introduced by the Coalition Government. Following the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick’s recent warning of a “political and policy failure” in prison policy, it is difficult to understand why the government is introducing measures which will increase the size of the prison population, raise public costs and add significantly to the work of criminal justice agencies at a time when staff, resources and budgets are already overstretched.
The warning by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick of a “political and policy failure” in prisons is(see also PRT's lead letter in The Times) backed by the findings of a recent Prison Reform Trust report which shows a system under significant strain with high levels of overcrowding, fewer staff, worsening safety, and fewer opportunities for rehabilitation.
In the past five weeks the prison population has increased by 734 people – the size of a large prison - and now stands at 84,533.