Austerity ‘squarely to blame’ for rise in prison violence
Labour look to link sharp rise in attacks and self-harm to government spending cuts
Austerity is “squarely to blame” for the rise in prison violence, the Labour party have claimed, as new figures reveal self-harm and violent attack in British jails soared by 20% last year to a record high.
Despite a reduction in the overall prison population, the number of self-harm incidents in prisons in England and Wales rose to 49,565 in the year to June 2018, an increase of 10% on the previous year.
A total of 32,559 assaults were recorded, averaging one every 20 minutes, with the number of attacks on prison staff rising by 27% over the same 12-month period.
The Safety in Custody figures also show that there were 325 deaths in prisons in the 12 months to September, up 8% from a year earlier. Suicides meanwhile increased by 12%, from 78 to 87.
The figures suggest that there has been no decline in the extent of violence in prisons despite “a fall in the number of people behind bars, government attempts to increase staff and the introduction of scanners to search for drugs and other contraband”, says The Times.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is yet another shameful set of statistics that shows the sheer scale of the bloodshed in prisons.”
Labour sought to capitalise on the figures, claiming austerity was “squarely to blame” for the unprecedented wave of violence and self-harm, accusing the government of failing to take responsibility for the current prison crisis.
Describing the figures as a “national scandal”, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to use his forthcoming budget to launch an emergency plan to tackle widespread understaffing and overcrowding in jails, or risk violence continuing to “spiral out of control”.
In June, the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, warned that prisoners in England and Wales were enduring the “most disturbing conditions ever seen” as authorities fail to take action to curb record high levels of violence and self-harm in jails.
The Independent reports that “the chaos is making it increasingly difficult for the prison service to retain staff”, having last month revealed that a third of prison officers who leave the service do so within a year of starting the job.
Last month, thousands of prison officers across England and Wales staged a mass walkout in protest at what they said were “unprecedented levels of violence”.