The warning by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick of a “political and policy failure” in prisons is 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.

The latest Ministry of Justice statistics show that 74 out of 119 prison establishments in operational use in England and Wales are overcrowded, with the prison estate as a whole holding 9,242 more prisoners than it was designed and built to hold. A full list of prisons in England and Wales showing population levels and rates of overcrowding is below.

The Secretary of State for Justice has instructed 40 public sector prisons to find accommodation by August for 440 more prisoners. According to reports, all but six of the 40 prisons are currently operating at overcrowded levels. 600 extra places are also being purchased in private prisons at an undisclosed, but likely to be significant, cost to the taxpayer.

Launched last month, the Prison Reform Trust’s report Prison: the facts revealed that unprecedented cuts to the Ministry of Justice budget, due to total £2.4bn by 2015-16, are creating a race to the bottom in prison conditions and the warehousing of people in super-sized jails with over 40% of prisoners are now held in prisons of 1,000 places or more.

Further measures are planned to drive down costs to levels claimed by the new much criticised private sector establishment HMP Oakwood, which is reported to cost under £15,000 per place and holds nearly 1,600 men. Despite evidence suggesting smaller prisons are safer and more effective than larger establishments, holding people closer to home with a higher ratio of staff to prisoners and more emphasis on resettlement, the government plans to build a super-sized prison in Wrexham holding 2,000 prisoners.

Strict controls on recruitment and high levels of staff sickness, the closure of 15 prisons, the transfer of a further two prisons to the private sector and a 23% reduction in the number of prison officers employed in publicly run prisons since March 2010 have created a system stretched to its limit. Reductions in staffing levels impact on safety and the amount of time prisoners are able to spend their time engaged in purposeful activity. Nearly half (46%) of adults are reconvicted within one year of release, rising to 58% for those sentenced to 12 months or less.

The number of occasions Prison Service Gold Command, the national group convened during serious incidents and disturbances, has been opened over the last three years has increased by 153% since 2011-12. In 2013-14 it opened on 81 occasions. There has also been a 14% rise in serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults between 2010 and 2013, and the number of deaths in custody last year was the highest on record.

The Prison Reform Trust has gathered evidence which shows that the new Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme, which includes a ban on prisoners receiving, parcels, books, writing materials and other basic items, is eliciting a strong sense of injustice in prisons and undermining opportunities for effective rehabilitation.

According to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, both “the quantity and quality of purposeful activity in which prisoners are engaged [has] plummeted” in 2012-13, reporting the worst outcomes in six years. In over half of prisons results were judged to be not sufficiently good or poor. He also warned in 2012 “Resources are now stretched very thinly [...] there is a pretty clear choice for politicians and policy makers - reduce prison populations or increase prison budgets.” He reiterated these points in comments made over the weekend.

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“These latest figures reveal a prison service having to cope with unprecedented strain. Ministers must heed, rather than dismiss, the warning signs. Rising serious assault and suicide rates, fewer staff and less constructive activity, call into question the government’s commitment to safety and decency. Slashing prison budgets and introducing harsher regimes while warehousing ever greater numbers overseen by fewer staff is no way to transform rehabilitation.”

Notes

1. A copy of Prison: the facts is available by clicking here.

2. Prisons in England and Wales including in use CNA, operational capacity, population and % population to in use CNA*

*Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA)

Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA), or uncrowded capacity, is the Prison Service’s own measure of accommodation. CNA represents the good, decent standard of accommodation that the Service aspires to provide all prisoners.

In-Use CNA

In use CNA is the sum total of certified accommodation in an establishment minus those places not available for immediate use, for example: damaged cells, cells affected by building works.

Operational Capacity

The operational capacity of a prison is the total number of prisoners that an establishment can hold taking into account control, security and the proper operation of the planned regime. It is determined by the Deputy Director of Custody on the basis of operational judgement and experience.

% pop to in use CNA

% population to in use CNA is measure of overcrowding which gives a percentage figure of the proportion of the prison population to in use CNA.

Ten most overcrowded prisons - May 2014

Prison In use CNA Operational CapacityPopulation  %Population to in use CNA

Swansea

242

455

446

184%

Lincoln

403

729

692

172%

Preston

421

776

718

171%

Leicester

214

411

363

170%

Exeter

318

561

538

169%

Wandsworth

943

1,628

1,597

169%

Kennet

175

342

272

155%

Bedford

322

506

487

151%

Cardiff

539

814

807

150%

Doncaster

738

1,145

1,108

150%


Taken from Ministry of Justice Monthly Population Bulletin May 2014