Deaths in custody

The latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley briefings prison factfile highlights in facts and figures the consequences of a punitive political arms race over criminal justice policy over the past three decades. Steep cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years have exposed the fault lines of a failed approach. The result is an overcrowded and overstretched prison system where standards of safety and decency are way below international expectations.
 
This year’s Bromley briefings open with a brand new section which we have called “The long view”. The Prison Reform Trust has built its reputation over more than three decades on presenting accurate evidence about prisons and the people in them. In a world where ministers feel compelled to respond to issues with ever greater immediacy, “The long view” offers an antidote to the latest Twitter storm or early morning grilling in the media.

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Commenting on research on prison suicides published in the Lancet, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This useful research shows that reducing suicides in prison is complex. But we know in this country that between 2008 and 2014 the situation was improving before deteriorating sharply as staffing levels were drastically reduced. Good procedures and good relationships underpin every aspect of safety in prison—overcrowding is just one of the reasons both are under pressure. Tackling it is long overdue and vital to prisons delivering every aspect of the government's many ambitions for reform."

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Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Despite a small but welcome fall in deaths, every other indicator points to the ongoing and longstanding deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons. Record levels of self-harm and assaults highlight mounting levels of frustration and despair among prisoners. Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime. With prison numbers projected to increase, declining levels of safety will be very difficult to turn around without a concerted effort by ministers to take the pressure off the system by reducing prison numbers."

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Commenting on the Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics published today, 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."

The Ministry of Justice's safety in custody statistics (quarterly update to December 2016) are available here.

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Commenting on today's report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This is a heartbreaking report. Following public outcry more than 10 years ago, lessons looked like they had been learned. However this rapid reversal is yet another symptom of a system under more pressure than it can bear. The promised strategy for women offenders needs to set out how a much higher proportion of this intensely vulnerable group of women can be diverted from the criminal justice system altogether. There is rare political consensus for a radically different approach, and the government must seize the opportunity it presents to save lives in future.”

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Commenting on today's publication of Safety in Custody statistics by the Ministry of Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"Another record low in standards of safety should leave no one in any doubt of the need to relieve the pressure on our failing prison system. We know that the worst outcomes happen in overcrowded prisons. Reducing the population can no longer be an afterthought—it is the only realistic way to make our prisons safe in the foreseeable future."

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Commenting on the publication of today's Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody statistics, Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust said:

"Today’s figures reveal a hidden emergency unfolding in our prison system. For the past few years, government statistics have recorded month on month record levels of violence, self harm and self inflicted deaths. This cannot be allowed to become the new normal. The government’s forthcoming prison safety and reform plan must get to grips with a dangerously deteriorating situation. The lives of people who live and work in prison depend on it."

Click here for a summary of the report's findings.

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Commenting on the Justice Committee's report Peter Dawson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 

“The Justice Committee’s shocking report requires an urgent practical response. Recruiting and retaining staff is part of that. But we are also paying the price for our over-use of imprisonment. The Government’s prison reform package must tackle both issues if stability is to be restored.”

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An explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences and the increased use of long determinate sentences are key drivers behind the near doubling of prison numbers in the past two decades. The latest edition of the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile, published today (30 November) by the Prison Reform Trust, reveals the cost of our addiction to imprisonment in wasted time, money and lives.

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