Prisons: deteriorating conditions

Date: 
Tuesday, 24 March, 2015

Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice has warned about deteriorating conditions inside UK prisons and has called for an Inquiry, reports the BBC

A Justice Committee report, 'Prisons: planning and policies' released earlier this month, explores the impact of the Government's programme of reforms and efficiency savings across the prison estate. The report covers a range of issues currently facing the prison system, but in particular highlights the impact of staffing cuts on declining prison safety, the Guardian reports. 

The Committee drew particular attention to the 28 per cent fall in staffing levels in public prisons since 2010, suggesting that the consequences to prisoner-staff relationships and prison regimes have led directly to hazardous conditions. The cross-party committee of MPs warned against downplaying the significance of the 38 per cent rise in self-inflicted deaths, nine per cent rise in self-harm, and seven per cent rise in assaults since 2012 as it could be construed as complacency and a lack of urgency. The report goes on to say:

'it is not possible to avoid the conclusion that the confluence of estate modernisation and reconfiguration, efficiency savings, staffing shortages, and changes in operational policy, including to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, have made a significant contribution to the deterioration in safety.'

This is almost identical to the conclusion that Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, came to in his annual report released last autumn:

'it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the conjunction of resource, population and policy pressures...was a very significant factor for the rapid deterioration in safety.'

In another report released this week, the Justice Committee raised concerns over the selection process for the new Chief Inspector of Prisons. Unlike previous Chief Inspectors, Nick Hardwick did not automatically have his contract extended for a second term. During the selection process for the next Chief Inspector, it was revealed that the fourth member of the appointment panel was an active Conservative party politician. Chris Grayling failed to inform the Justice Committee of this point. Another member of the selection panel, Lord Henley, is a Conservative peer. The Commissioner for Public Appointments, David Normington, may change the code of practice as a result of Grayling's actions.