Assaults and self-harm in prisons soar to record levels

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Twenty attacks on prison staff are recorded every day as the torrent of violence sweeping through jails in England and Wales continues to surge.

Official figures reveal assaults and self-harm behind bars have climbed again to reach new record levels.

The findings provide the latest evidence of the scale of the safety crisis that has gripped much of the prisons estate.

Rise in prison violence
(PA Graphics)

In the year to June the total number of assaults continued to increase, reaching a record high of 27,193 incidents.

Of these 7,437 were assaults on staff – a rise of a quarter compared with the previous year.

This tally includes 798 incidents classed as “serious” – such as those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report also noted that assaults on staff reached a new quarterly record high of 2,011.

Self-harm incidents in prisons
(PA Graphics)

While the vast majority of violence against staff was seen in male establishments, there were 344 assaults on staff in female prisons – the highest number for an equivalent period since the year to June 2008.

Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were up a tenth to 19,678, with almost 3,000 of these classed as serious.

Self-harm reached a record high of 41,103 incidents in the 12 months to June 2017, up 12% from the previous year.

In the 12 months to September, there were 300 deaths in prison custody – including three homicides and 77 self-inflicted deaths. These figures were all down on the previous year.

A prison cell as violence in prisons in England and Wales continues to surge
Violence in prisons in England and Wales continues to surge (Paul Faith/PA)

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 long-standing deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons.

“Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon claimed Government polices are “squarely to blame”.

Shadow secretary of state for Justice Richard Burgon
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon (Danny Lawson/PA)

He said: “It is scandalous that we now have an assault every 20 minutes in our prisons.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey said: “Our prisons are fit to bursting and this is leading to horrific incidents of self-harm and violence.”

Justice Secretary David Lidington said: “Our prison staff work incredibly hard and I am under no illusions about the challenges they face. More officers on the wings will improve the safety of our prisons.

“That is why we are investing £100 million to boost the front line. We have already recruited 1,290 extra prison officers over the past year – taking us over half way to our target – but we won’t stop there.

David Lidington, the Secretary of State for Justice
David Lidington, the Secretary of State for Justice (PA)

“I am also determined to give officers the tools they need to manage violent offenders – investing £2 million in body-worn cameras which will act as a visible deterrent against violence and assist with prosecutions, as well as introducing new-style handcuffs and piloting PAVA incapacitant spray.”

He added that violence against staff “will never be tolerated”, saying he is supporting a Bill to increase sentences for those who attack emergency workers, including prison officers.

“I have been clear that it will take time, but I am determined to tackle the issues that undermine prison safety,” Mr Lidington added.

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