Strangeways: 25 Years On

01/04/2015 08:37:00

Half of all men (49.7%) at HMP Manchester (Strangeways) are held two to a cell designed for one, a new Prison Reform Trust report reveals.

Almost one quarter (23.6%) of people held across the prison estate in England and Wales are in so-called “doubled accommodation”.

Twenty five years after the Strangeways riot began on 1 April 1990, chronic overcrowding driven by a near doubling of the prison population over the past two decades continues to undermine standards of decency in prisons and restrict opportunities for rehabilitation, the report says.

Half of people released from prison reoffend within one year of release; rising to 60% for those serving sentences of 12 months or less.

When the Strangeways riot began the prison population was 45,000; today it stands at 84,000.[3] England and Wales now has the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe, imprisoning 149 people for every 100,000. At the end of February 2015, 71 of the 118 prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded.

Successive governments have poured taxpayers’ money into expensive prison building programmes while closing smaller prisons and opening vast prisons in order to meet the demands of a growing prison population.  More than four in 10 prisoners are now held in supersized jails of over 1,000 or more. HMP Manchester currently holds 1,114 men.

The Strangeways prison riot, which left two men dead and 194 injured, was one of the most serious in British penal history. The riot took place against the background of a prison system which was perceived by prisoners as increasingly arbitrary and unfair and lacking in basic standards of decency.

Lord Woolf’s inquiry into the causes of the disturbances constituted a wide-ranging examination of conditions in Britain’s prisons and represents the most important analysis of the penal system for the past 100 years.

Lord Woolf, who now chairs the Prison Reform Trust, will deliver a lecture on the 25th anniversary of the Strangeways riot on 1 April 2015 at the Inner Temple in London.

Lord Woolf’s12 main recommendations and 204 proposals on matters of detail set out an agenda for comprehensive reform of the prison system. These included an end to “slopping out”, whereby prisoners had to urinate and defecate in buckets in their cell; the appointment of a prisons ombudsman; and the introduction of telephones on landings so prisoners could keep in closer touch with their families.

Lord Woolf also called for an enforceable limit on overcrowding and the division of prisons into smaller and more manageable secure units of 50-70 places, with no establishment exceeding 400 places.

The report assesses progress made against Lord Woolf’s 12 main recommendations for a more fair and just prison system. It says that many of the factors which contributed to the unrest have resurfaced today. Although the Prison Service is better able today to ensure control and security, this has threatened to set back decades of painstaking progress it has made to improve treatment and conditions.