Prison safety Contents



1.On 1 December 2015 we held an evidence session on prison safety with Andrew Selous MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Prisons and Probation, and Michael Spurr CB, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).1 This followed the publication on 29 October 2015 of quarterly Safety in Custody statistics charting an ongoing decline in indicators of safety in prisons in England and Wales—including assaults against prisoners and staff, self-harm, and self-inflicted deaths—which had begun in 2012.2 On 12 November 2015, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) issued a press notice renewing their concerns about prison safety as they believed there was a “dangerous and deteriorating situation in prisons” and felt officers were not being afforded adequate protection.3

2.As a mark of the seriousness with which Parliament more broadly has taken the situation two debates took place in January 2016 in the House of Commons:

Prison safety matters were also referred to during a wider debate on the Government’s policies for prison reform in the House of Lords.6

3.Following the 1 December evidence session we wrote to several key stakeholders—the then HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Prison Officers’ Association, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) and the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody—asking for their observations on the evidence given by the Minister and CEO of NOMS. Their letters have been published on our webpages as has a letter from the Minister with supplementary information on some of the matters we had raised with him.7 Two subsequent sets of Safety in Custody statistics, the last of which was published on 28 April 2016, indicate ongoing and significant deterioration in levels of safety.8 Given the urgency of this matter, and the need for it to be addressed swiftly, we have not issued a general public call for evidence.

The previous Committee’s report Prisons: planning and policies

4.Our predecessor Committee’s report on Prisons: planning and policies, published in March 2015, noted that all available indicators were pointing to a rapid deterioration in standards of safety and levels of performance over the preceding two years. Referring to patterns in the Ministry of Justice’s Safety in Custody statistics that Committee stated:

Most concerning to us is that since 2012 there has been a 38% rise in self-inflicted deaths, a 9% rise in self-harm, a 7% rise in assaults, and 100% rise in incidents of concerted indiscipline. Complaints to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and other sources have risen. There are fewer opportunities for rehabilitation, including diminished access to education, training, libraries, religious leaders, and offending behaviour courses.9

At that time NOMS believed that these problems would begin to recede as staffing levels rose, and that the situation would stabilise thereafter.

5.The previous Committee’s conclusion about the factors contributing to the fall in safety was that it was

… improbable that there is no link between estate reconfiguration, benchmarking, and changes in operational policy, including the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, and the shift in safety across the prison estate. In particular, we conclude that the fall in staffing levels stemming from redundancies and increased turnover, which at their most acute have resulted in severely restricted regimes, are bound to have reduced the consistency of relationships between officers and prisoners, and in turn affected safety.10

The Committee said that increases in assaults on both staff and prisoners, together with the increase in suicides in prisons, were matters of grave concern and that the Government had been reluctant to acknowledge the serious nature of the operational and safety challenges facing prisons, and the role of its own policy decisions in creating them.

The Prison Officers’ Association’s concerns

6.Following the publication of the Committee’s report the POA endorsed its findings and gave NOMS 28 days’ notice to take remedial action stating that both staff and prisoners’ health and safety was in danger and asking for a complete review of health and safety risk assessments and safe systems of work.11 Agreement on the action to be taken was reached by the union and NOMS on 26 March 2015. Part 3 of that agreement said:

NOMS and the POA are jointly committed to ensuring that in all establishments local management and POA representatives are working together to ensure that appropriate risk assessments, safe systems of work and Regime Management Plans are in place. NOMS will provide sufficient facility time for local POA representatives to ensure that this work is properly progressed with immediate effect. It is recognised that the demands on management and POA time will vary from site to site, but in all sites NOMS will work to ensure that we have risk assessments, safe systems of work and Regime Management Plans that are of an acceptable standard and up to date within a reasonable timeframe.

To ensure that there is sufficient momentum in this work, it is agreed that there will be a full review of progress during the course of July 2015. This will be a joint review led by a nominated POA National Official leading on Health and Safety and by a NOMS Health and Safety Advisor and will include selected prison visits as part of the process. The review will be to support the ongoing joint Health and Safety work of local management and POA representatives through looking at compliance; areas for improvement; identifying areas of good practice and to effectively promote strong ongoing joint local Health and Safety work for the future. Outcomes will be shared through the NOMS National Health and Safety Whitley Sub-Committee.12

7.On 11 November 2015, in the belief that the situation had deteriorated further, the POA wrote to Michael Spurr setting out concerns that although regime management plans were in place, in their members’ experience these were not being followed, and questioning some employment practices.13 The POA felt that the safety situation had deteriorated since the March agreement and in its letter again gave NOMS 28 days to “put their house in order”, stating that “[a] failure to provide safe, secure and decent prisons will result in the National Executive Committee of the POA advising its members on what measures they must take to prevent or reduce risks to their health and safety and to other prison staff and prisoners.”14 The POA also referred to an (unpublished) NOMS health and safety report reviewing progress in six prisons against the agreement made in March 2015 and said “[t]his report, prepared by you, discloses a wholesale failure on your part to seriously address the dangerous and deteriorating situation in the prisons that you are responsible for.”

8.NOMS provided us with a copy of the health and safety report, along with an explanatory letter from Michael Spurr, the latter of which we published.15 The report was the outcome of a review which examined staff awareness of key management information that should be used in their establishment; observations of regime delivery; safety of staff in the establishment; support for staff in the establishment; staff detailing; and health and safety documentation.

The purpose of this report

9.In this report we reflect, on the basis of the information available to us, on the progress made by the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service in seeking to stabilise and improve prison safety in the context of their evidence, the correspondence we received, and the two subsequent sets of quarterly Safety in Custody statistics. We will also consider briefly these matters in the light of the Government’s ambitious penal reform agenda on which the Prime Minister spoke on 12 February, and which we discussed with the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, on 16 March and with Mr Selous and Mr Spurr on 26 April.16

1 HC (2015–15) 625, 1 December 2015

3POA condemn NOMS and the Government for the continued failure to provide safe, decent and secure prisons”, Prison Officers Association press release PR114, 12 November 2015

4 HC Deb, 26 January 2016, Col 7WS,

5 HC Deb, 27 January 2016, Col 333ff

6 HL Deb, 21 Jan 2016, Col 907ff

7 Letters to Rt Hon Bob Neill MP from Andrew Selous MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, dated 5 January 2016, Nick Hardwick, then HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, dated 13 January 2016, Nigel Newcomen, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, dated 15 January 2016, and Kate Lampard, Chair of Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, dated 2 February 2016; PJ McParlin, Chair of Prison Officers Association, written response to 1 December 2015 evidence session

9 Justice Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2014–15, Prisons: Planning and Policies, HC 309, para 75

10 Ibid. Summary.

11 “POA give 28 day notice on health and safety improvements for England and Wales prisons”, Prison Officers Association press release PR102, 18 March 2015

12 NOMS POA 2015 Agreement Review of Health and Safety Commitments, September 2015, unpublished.

13 Letter from Prison Officers Association to Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, National Offender Management Service, dated 11 November 2015

14POA condemn NOMS and the Government for the continued failure to provide safe, decent and secure prisons”, Prison Officers Association press release PR114, 12 November 2015

15 Note from Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, National Offender Management Service to the Justice Committee, dated 20 November 2015

16 See Prison reform: Prime Minister’s speech to Policy Exchange, 8 February 2016; Oral evidence taken on 10 March 2016, HC (2015–16) 895, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice; Oral evidence taken on 26 April 2016, HC (2015–16) 397, Qq416–459, Andrew Selous MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Justice and Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, National Offender Management Service.

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

13 May 2016