Deaths in custody

Commenting on the latest Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody Statistics published today (25 April), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“These numbers show that there is a very long way to go before our prison system is safe for the people who live and work in it. The rise in self-inflicted deaths is especially concerning.

“Everyone will hope that the modest improvement in both self-harm and assault figures in the most recent quarter may be the start of a trend, although it is far too early to say. But it would be a mistake, when a change may have started to happen, to put that at risk. Rolling out the deployment of PAVA spray to all prison officers will undermine the relationships between staff and prisoners on which all aspects of safety ultimately depend.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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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:

“These disturbing figures show every indicator of prison safety to be pointing the wrong way, with a rise in numbers of natural and self-inflicted deaths and record levels of self-harm and assaults. The measures the government have put in place to improve prison safety, including increasing staff numbers and the roll out of a new key worker model, have not yet succeeded in reversing this rising trend. Plans to roll out PAVA spray to all prison staff on the closed adult male estate risk making a volatile situation even worse.”

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Commenting on the publication of today's safety in custody statistics, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Despite the unrelenting effort of many in the system, all of these indicators show that there is no end in sight to the catastrophe that has engulfed many of our prisons. The government has recruited more staff and spent money on security. But so far it has only talked about reducing the number of prisoners the system holds. That needs to change, with action for the short and long term which will bring the prison population back down to a level where safety can be restored.”

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Commenting on the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Annual Report 2017–18, Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust, said: 

“This disturbing report paints a bleak picture of a prison system where people are dying needlessly, and where lessons clearly set out by the Ombudsman are not being learned. Despite highlighting a welcome fall in self-inflicted deaths, there are worrying signs that this trend is in danger of reversing. A lack of suitably qualified mental health professionals in prison and the ability to transfer severely mentally ill people out of prison and into treatment remain significant concerns.

“It is clear that prisons need an effective strategy to deal with the destructive impact of psychoactive substances. This must include measures to limit demand as well as supply through more time out of cell and purposeful activity. The high rate of natural deaths underscores the desperate need for a properly resourced older prisoners strategy.

“The routine loss and damage to prisoners’ property continues to be a source of needless frustration, which could be easily remedied by prisons following clear and simple procedures for recording ownership and arranging transfers.”

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Whilst there has been a welcome reduction in the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison over the last year, figures published last month show that all other safety indicators are once again set records for all the wrong reasons.

Record levels of self-harming; record levels of assaults on prisoners; and record levels of assaults on staff show that violence and fear is the daily reality for many people in prison.

Dr Kimmett Edgar, the Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Research, a specialist in violence and conflict resolution in prisons, has produced a guide for staff and officials to help them to develop much needed strategies for violence reduction in our prisons. This guide builds on a speech he delivered to the Prison Safety and Reform team at the Ministry of Justice last month.

Conflict resolution needs to be placed at the centre of prison strategies to reduce violence. Doing so would empower governors, officers and prisoners in their efforts to make prisons safer.

Click 'read more' for the full story and to download a copy of the guide

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PRT comment: HMP Nottingham

16/05/2018 00:01:00

Commenting on today’s inspection report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This report shames us as a nation. It speaks of a fundamental failure to administer justice in a civilised way.

“But it is not an isolated example. Between 2013 and 2017, 1,364 people died in prison in England and Wales. 447 of those took their own life, and 21 were killed by a fellow prisoner. Nottingham prison is symptomatic of a disastrous political decision to slash resources from a chronically overcrowded prison system. Local failures must be rigorously exposed, as the Chief Inspector and Ombudsman rightly have done, and must be put right. But it was a political decision that broke the prison system and it will take political leadership to fix it. That must start with using prison less—it is time for ministers to step up.”

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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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