September 6, 2016

Prison Staff Assaulted Every 96 Minutes

The latest UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics show that on average a staff member in prisons in England and Wales was assaulted every 96 minutes in the last quarter of 2014. This number has continued to rise since early 2014.

In 2015, there were 4,963 reported incidents of assaults on Prison Staff in England and Wales, up 36% from 3,640 in 2014, according to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics.

These figures come from the March 2016 Safety in Custody MoJ publication. A spreadsheet containing all the data can be downloaded here

On 18th May 2016 the UK Commons Library published a briefing paper setting out current concerns about prison safety in England and Wales following the publication of new statistics showing a significant increase in self-inflicted deaths, homicides, self-harm and assaults in prisons in England and Wales.

Nick Hardwick, who until February 2016 was HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, argued in his annual report for 2014-15 that prisons are at their worst for 10 years, with the deficiencies being most acute in adult male prisons.  Previously, in his annual report for 2013-14, he had said:

"Increases in self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and violence cannot be attributed to a single cause. They reflect some deep-seated trends and affect prisons in both the public and private sectors. Nevertheless, in my view, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the conjunction of resource, population and policy pressures, particularly in the second half of 2013–14 and particularly in adult male prisons, was a very significant factor in the rapid deterioration in safety and other outcomes we found as the year progressed and that were reflected in NOMS’ own safety data".

The Justice Committee revisited the issue in their May 2016 report, Prison Safety. The Committee's central recommendation was that the Ministry and NOMS should together produce an action plan for improving prison safety, addressing the factors underlying the rises in violence, self-harm and suicide.  The Committee was particularly concerned about the problem of staff retention in the context of the reduction in prison officer numbers since 2010.

Safety in Prisions in England and Wales

In it's Briefing Paper for MPs dated 18 May 2016, Safety in Prisions in England and Wales, the House of Commons Library compares the latest Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics on Safety in Custody in 2015 with 2014:

  • 21% rise in deaths in Prison Custody (290 deaths in 2015)
  • 25% rise in reported inidents of self-harm (6,470 incidents in 2015)
  • 24% rise in prisoner on prisoner assaults (15,511 in 2015)
  • 31% rise in serious prisoner on prisoner assaults (2,197 in 2015)
  • 36% rise in assaults on staff (4,963 in 2015)
  • 31% rise in serious assaults on staff (625 in 2015)

The Trend

Prisoner and staff safety has always been a challenge for the MoJ and the statistics have always been worryingly high, however this current trend is relatively recent. Between 2003 and 2013 the number of quarterly assaults on staff was steady and averaged 810. Still far too high, however the number of assaults on staff started rising in the beginning of 2014 and in Q4 of 2015 had reached 1,337 incidents, that's an average of 446 assaults per month, 15 per day, or one assault every 96 minutes. 


The Government's Stance

In January 2016 the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, restated the MoJ policy on prison reform and reducing violence in prisons:

"Our prison system needs reform. There is much more to do to ensure prisons are places of deceny, hope and rehabilitation.

"Violence in prisions has increased in recent years. The nature of offenders currently in custoday and the widespread availability of novel psychoactive substances have both contributed to making prisons less safe. There is no single, simple solution to the problems we face but we are making progress.

"We have launched a two year Violence Reduction project to reduce violent incidents and the propensity of violence in prisons. 

"Ultimately the only way to reduce violence in our prisons is to give governors and those who work in prisons the tools necessary to more effectively reform and rehabilitate offenders, which we are determined to see through."