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26 Apr 2018

Almost 1,000 years of additional imprisonment handed down in prisons last year as assaults and self-injury rise to new record highs

The chaos in the prison system is laid bare today as the number of additional days of imprisonment handed down to prisoners for breaking prison rules has rocketed by 125 per cent in three years while assaults and incidents of self-injury keep rising to new record highs.

Figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform show that a total of 359,081 days – almost 984 years – of additional imprisonment were imposed in 2017 as prisons in England and Wales, brought to breaking point by overcrowding and staff shortages, increasingly resorted to draconian punishments.

The total number of additional days handed down has risen as conditions in prisons have deteriorated – from fewer than 160,000 in 2014, to more than 215,000 in 2015, to almost 290,000 in 2016.

Locking people up for longer and longer is unsustainable. It piles pressure on the prison population and worsens overcrowding, which in turn creates conditions for drug abuse, violence and self-injury.

Data published today by the Ministry of Justice show that an incident of self-injury in prison is recorded every 12 minutes, and an assault is recorded every 18 minutes.

Prisons recorded 29,485 assaults in 2017 – a 13 per cent rise on the previous year.

They included 8,429 assaults on prison staff – a 23 per cent rise compared to the previous 12 months.

Incidents of self-injury rose by 11 per cent to 44,651 over the same period.

It means that incidents of assault and self-injury are at their highest levels since current recording practices began in 1978.

The figures show that 299 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to the end of March 2018, including 69 people who lost their lives through suicide. There were five homicides.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The explosion in the use of additional days of imprisonment, together with the growing number of assaults and incidents of self-injury, is a symptom of a prison system in crisis. The Howard League’s research has revealed the scale of the problem, and we are leading the push to solve it.

“We have raised this with ministers, prison governors and Ministry of Justice officials, as well as hearing from officials in Scotland, where the imposition of additional days has been abolished. What we need now is political stability and bold action to make prisons safer.

“Ultimately, positive steps to reduce the prison population would save lives, protect staff and stop others being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

Research by the Howard League has found that additional days of imprisonment are imposed arbitrarily in England and Wales, with the severity of punishment varying from prison to prison, creating a sense of unfairness and injustice.

Disciplinary hearings, known as adjudications, are used overly and inappropriately, with even minor infractions such as disobedience and disrespect being punished with additional days of imprisonment.

The Howard League has called on England and Wales to follow the example set by Scotland, where the use of additional days was scrapped a decade ago.

Officials and governors in Scotland could find no evidence that abolishing the use of additional days had a negative impact on behaviour, and Scottish prisons have become safer since the change was made.

The Howard League legal team is the only frontline legal team specialising in the legal rights and entitlements of children and young people in custody. Adjudications are the most common issue raised in calls to the charity’s legal advice line.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A detailed research briefing on adjudications in prisons in England and Wales, Out of control: punishment in prison, can be found on the Howard League website.
  1. The Howard League and another charity, Centre for Mental Health, worked together on a joint programme on preventing people dying by suicide in prison. Further information about the programme can be found on the Howard League website.
  1. The Ministry of Justice’s statistical bulletin, Safety in Custody: quarterly update to December 2017, can be read online.
  1. The Ministry of Justice’s statistical bulletin, Offender Management Statistics quarterly: October to December 2017, can be read online. The main bulletin gives the total number of additional days imposed in 2017 as 21,081, but this figure is in fact the number of instances of people being punished by being given additional days. A zip file published alongside the main bulletin, CSV dataset and variable guide, includes a data set showing the total number of additional days imposed. 


Rob Preece
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