10.In this chapter we examine in more detail recent trends in indicators of prison safety. There are various sources of information upon which it is possible to form judgements about elements of prison safety, some of which are published regularly by the Ministry of Justice and NOMS, and some of which are collated routinely but made available on request. Answers to Parliamentary Questions are another important source of information.
11.On 28 April 2016 the most recent Safety in Custody statistics were published. Both these and data for the previous quarter continue to show higher rates of self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and assaults than in the corresponding previous 12 months, and ongoing significant growth in the number of assaults and self-harm incidents. Assaults rose 20% in the six months to December 2015 compared to the preceding six months and self-harm incidents grew by 11% over the same period. The following charts summarise the main statistics covering assaults, deaths and self-harm over the year to December 2015 compared to the year before.
12.Assaults against staff have followed this rising trend. There were 2,690 assaults in the six months to December 2015, an increase of 18% compared to the previous six months. Since January 2015 each quarter there have been over 150 serious assaults—defined as those requiring hospital treatment—on staff, and over 500 serious assaults between prisoners. A prison officer working for Serco, Lorraine Barwell, tragically died on 2 July 2015 after being attacked by a prisoner she was escorting from court.
13.In the 12 months to March 2016 there were 100 self-inflicted deaths (79 in the previous year) and 6 homicides (4 in the previous year). These figures are likely to rise because the cause of 9 deaths is still yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the number of self-inflicted deaths has varied over the year. The number declined from 29 in the three months to September 2015 to 17 the following quarter but rose again to 27 in the three months to March 2016.
14.Kate Lampard, interim Chair of the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, believed that comparisons made with suicide numbers and rates in the general population in England and Wales—to which Mr Spurr had drawn our attention—were of very limited utility and suggested a better comparison would be deaths in prisons in other jurisdictions, which we had also discussed with Mr Spurr and the Prisons Minister. Comparative data on prison suicides is included in the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics. Mr Selous, noting variations in the classification between jurisdictions, cited the most recent data for 2012—before the recent rise here—which showed England and Wales had a rate of 0.7 per 1000 prisoners, which was lower than that in Germany (0.82 per 1000) and France (1.44 per 1000) but higher than that in Spain (0.44 per 1000). Following the recent increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths in England and Wales the rate has risen to 1.1 per 1000. Statistics for suicides in prisons in 2013, published by the Council of Europe since Mr Selous gave evidence, show rates of 0.89 per 1,000 prisoners in England and Wales, 0.74 for Germany, 1.24 for France and 0.57 for Spain.
15.PJ McParlin, Chair of the Prison Officers’ Association, referred in his letter to the deployment of tactical intervention teams from the National Tactical Response Group (NTRG)—which attend incidents at height, incidents of hostage taking, and incidents of concerted indiscipline—as having reached “unprecedented levels”. Deployment of the NTRG, a specialist resource to assist both public and private sector establishments in managing safely and resolving serious incidents in prisons, more than doubled to between approximately 30 and 40 times each month between March and November 2015 compared to January and February 2015.
16.NTRG also supports “Tornado” response teams which provide mutual aid arrangements between neighbouring establishments to assist with the most serious incidents.. Such teams were used 16 times in 2014 and 15 times in 2015. Gold Command Incidents, which are opened by NOMS to deal with potentially serious incidents as quickly and safely as possible, have also risen: from 46 in 2012 to 71 in 2013 and 82 in 2015. There were 1,935 fires in adult prisons and young offender establishments 2015, a 57% increase on 2014 and 68% increase on 2013. In explaining the figures Mr Selous told the House that the reporting of fire incidents has significantly improved, which has led to a greater number being reported in 2015.
17.NOMS produces assessments of performance for prison providers using an assessment framework that has been agreed by the NOMS Agency Board, including Non-Executive Directors. For both public and private prisons the Prison Rating System (PRS) which assesses performance on 31 indicators across four domains: Public Protection, Reducing Reoffending, Decency and Resource Management and Operational Effectiveness. NOMS publishes annual performance ratings with prisons rated on a 4-point scale, where: 4 = Exceptional performance; 3 = Meeting the Majority of Targets; 2 = Overall performance is of concern; and, 1 = Overall performance is of serious concern. Performance is monitored using the same framework on an ongoing basis. According to the scores for the last two years to March 2015, the performance of almost a quarter of prisons was of concern, or of serious concern (23% in 2013–14 and 23.5% in 2014–15). This compared to 14 per cent and 2 per cent respectively in the previous two years.
18.On the basis that prison safety is reliant on dynamic security, i.e. staff-prisoner relationships, our predecessor Committee believed that the key explanatory factor for the obvious deterioration in standards was that a significant number of prisons had been operating at staffing levels below what was necessary to maintain reasonable, safe and rehabilitative regimes. That Committee pointed out that a quarter of the staff who had left the Prison Service in the year to September 2014 had resigned, and therefore raised questions about NOMS’ recruitment and retention policies. In February 2015, Michael Spurr told that Committee that staffing pressures were beginning to recede. NOMS planned to recruit 1,700 staff by March 2015 and exceeded its target. We heard in December that NOMS intended to recruit a further 1,700 to 2,000 prison officers up to the end of March 2016. Nevertheless, NOMS’ workforce statistics indicate that recruitment has not kept pace with people leaving the service. Over the 12 months to 31 December 2015, Prison Service operational staff only increased by 600 (FTE) and the number of staff directly employed in the Prison Service fell by 0.8% (250 FTE) over the last three months of last year. 39% (580) of those who left the service in the last year resigned, indicating ongoing problems with retention. In the North East, leavers were more numerous than joiners. Mr Selous confirmed to us on 26 April 2016 that the 2,250 extra prison officers recruited when the Ministry went “full throttle with a major recruitment programme” in 2015 had resulted in a net gain of only 440 officers but was unable to tell us how far short of a full complement of staff public sector prisons were operating.
19.Each of the statistics and performance indicators referred to in this Chapter are important barometers which enable us and other observers to hold the Ministry and National Offender Management Service to account for its safe and decent management of prisoners. In its new Single Departmental Plan (SDP) the Ministry sets out the improvement of public safety and reduction of reoffending by reforming prisons, probation and youth justice as one of its key objectives and makes commitments to publish data to enable performance to be monitored. It states:
We will publish new prison league tables to measure performance in areas such as hours spent by prisoners out of their cell, levels of purposeful activity, educational value added, suitable qualifications acquired, effective care and support of staff and other metrics. We will consult with prison staff and governors on how these league tables might best be designed.
We will publish open and transparent figures for deaths in custody, assaults on prisoners, assaults on staff, staff turnover overall and by institution, reducing overcrowding, reducing re-offending, qualifications gained and jobs secured to ensure others can hold us to account.
Following the publication of the plan we sought to clarify with the Department whether it planned to change the reporting of the various specific and wider indicators of prison safety and decency referred to above and were told that NOMS had no intention of ceasing the quarterly safety, workforce and reoffending statistics.
17 Ministry of Justice Statistical Bulletin, , 26 April 2016
18 Ibid; Ministry of Justice Statistical Bulletin, , 28 January 2016
19 “It is in the nature of assault incidents that at least two people must be involved. As the numbers involved increase so too does the complexity and risk of error. Assigning the correct role (assailant, victim, fighter etc.) to individuals involved in an incident is a potential source of error. All incidents are investigated and the majority of roles should be correctly assigned. On occasions, however, lack of witnesses or refusal of victims to co-operate will limit the accuracy of what can be recorded.”
20 Ibid.“The assaults data presented in this report are drawn from administrative IT systems. Although care is taken when processing and analysing the returns, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system. The data presented in this report are considered satisfactory for analysing levels and determining trends but there will be non-response and processing errors in the underlying data. Assaults non-response errors arise because the victim of an assault may not inform staff and therefore the incident will go un-reported. In addition, there can be a range of factors that influence the threshold at which an event is reported as an assault incident. Processing errors may arise when incident reports are first written up or when they are subsequently recorded on the incident reporting system.”
22 See for example Aebi, M.F. & Delgrande, N. (2015). . Strasbourg: Council of Europe
23 Aebi, M.F., Tiago,M. M. & Burkhardt, C. (2015). . Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Table 13.1, p.121
24 Incidents at height are defined as any incident taking place over 3 feet from ground level, including cases where a prisoner has gained access to safety netting; incidents of concerted indiscipline are defined as incidents where 2 or more prisoners act together in defiance of a lawful instruction or against the requirements of the regime of the establishment: they can be either active concerted indiscipline, where prisoners attempt to prevent staff regaining control of a situation, including potentially through use of violence, or passive concerted indiscipline, such as a sit-down protest with no violence involved.
25 , Chair of Prison Officers Association, written response to 1 December 2015 evidence session
26 [On National Tactical Response Group], 21 December 2015
27 [On Prison: Civil Disorder], 3 December 2014
28 [On Prisons: Civil Disorders], 1 March 2016
29 [On Prisons: Disciplinary Proceedings], 7 January 2016
30 HC Deb, 11 February 2016,
33 Ministry of Justice, , 4 February 2016
35 , Q423;Qq441–446
13 May 2016