In this report we examine the Government’s response to the ongoing and rapid deterioration in prison safety in England and Wales which began in 2012. We took evidence from the Prisons Minister and the Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service on prison safety in December 2015, and statistics published in January and April 2016 showed higher rates of self-harm and assaults than in the previous 12 months, and significant growth in the number of incidents compared to the previous quarter. We wished to reflect on the progress made by the Ministry of Justice and NOMS in their efforts to stabilise the rise in assaults against prisoners and staff, incidents of self-harm and self-inflicted deaths, and obtained the views of several key stakeholders in writing.
The MoJ and NOMS have sought to improve prison safety through a wide range of legislative, operational and staff recruitment measures, including the creation of new offences of possession of new psychoactive substances and knife possession in prison and action to address violence through the use of body-worn cameras and to improve safeguarding procedures. Notwithstanding these considerable efforts, together with those of staff in prisons striving to keep prisoners and themselves secure and unharmed, overall levels of safety in prisons have not stabilised as the Ministry hoped, let alone improved and continue to deteriorate significantly. We say that this is a matter of great concern, and improvement is urgently needed. Our central recommendation is that the Ministry and NOMS together produce an action plan for improving prison safety, addressing the factors underlying the rises in violence, self-harm and suicide. Of particular concern is a major issue with staff retention which resulted in a net gain of only 440 prison officers last year following the recruitment of 2,250. This is against the fact that there are 7,000 fewer officers than in 2010, when the prison population was about 2,500 lower than it is now. We also say that we wish to receive quarterly reports over the remainder of this Parliament containing data which will enable progress against the plan to be evaluated. We will also continue discussions with HM Inspectorate of Prisons on scrutiny of NOMS’ performance in managing prison safety.
13 May 2016