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6 Oct 2015

Aylesbury: A dire, dangerous, disastrous prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Aylesbury prison, published today (Tuesday 6 October 2015).

Inspectors visited Aylesbury in June and found that the prison, which holds young men aged 18 to 21, had deteriorated since its last inspection.

More than half of all prisoners who responded to the inspectors’ survey said that they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay. There had been 115 assaults on prisoners and staff, as well as 46 fights, in the six months leading up to the inspection. Use of force by staff was very high and rising.

One in five prisoners was on a ‘basic’ regime – the most spartan conditions possible – and this regime was overly punitive. Men who were not assigned to an activity received only two showers and telephone calls a week, as well as shorter visits. Unemployed prisoners on the basic regime got little more than four-and-a-half hours a week out of their cell.

The segregation unit was poor and conditions had deteriorated since the last inspection. A large number of young men had been held there for months. Inspectors found that too little was being done to help prevent psychological deterioration caused by long periods in segregation.

Staff and managers told inspectors that 60 per cent of prisoners in segregation had refused to be returned to the main prison because they felt unsafe. They were waiting either to be transferred to another prison or to be released at the end of their sentence.

Inspectors found that the lack of training on offer was “perhaps Aylesbury’s greatest failing”. They discovered that between 30 and 40 per cent of young prisoners were locked up during the working day. Many classes and workshops were closed because of staff shortages.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by the Howard League revealed that staff from 18 different prisons had been sent to Aylesbury to plug gaps in recent months.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Aylesbury is a dire, dangerous, disastrous prison succeeding only in making young people worse. It is meant to be a training prison but nothing could be further from the truth, and its deterioration is hardly surprising given the deep staffing cuts that it has been forced to contend with.

“Our Legal Team, which works with young men in Aylesbury, has reported that the fear and imminence of violence is palpable in the prison – especially on the segregation unit, where prisoners are supposed to be safe.

“It cannot be right that young people are held in such conditions and it should be no surprise if they go on to offend again. Today’s report into Aylesbury should be read alongside the recent Harris Review into the self-inflicted deaths of young people in custody. Taken together, they spell out the urgent need for change.”

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.
  2. A copy of the Aylesbury inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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