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25 Jul 2017

Howard League responds to Bristol prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Bristol prison, published today (Tuesday 25 July).

Inspectors visited Bristol in March and found that standards had fallen from an already low base to the point where it was fundamentally unsafe for staff and prisoners. The prison was understaffed and, although it was designated to accommodate only 424 men, it was actually holding 543.

Seven men had died by suicide since the last inspection in 2014, including five in the last 12 months alone. Incidents of self-injury had rocketed – there were 230 incidents in the six months prior to this inspection, compared with 58 during the corresponding period before the last one.

Violence was rife, with much of it related to drugs and debt, although it had slightly reduced in recent months. One in three men surveyed by inspectors said that they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection – double the number when Bristol was last inspected, and far higher than at similar prisons.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “With its warnings about suicide, violence, drug-taking and filth, today’s report on Bristol – a prison that has faced significant problems for many years – ought to be a shocking anomaly.

“In truth, however, we have seen dozens of such reports as the dangerously overcrowded prison system has descended into deadly chaos. Prisons are out of control, and each week brings yet another instalment in a seemingly never-ending story of wasted potential and human misery.

“Prisoners should not be held, and dedicated staff should not have to work, in such degrading and harmful conditions.

“On the day of the Queen’s Speech, the new Secretary of State for Justice sought to assure us that the government would respond positively to criticism from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. Now, I expect to see action.

“The government must take bold but sensible steps to reduce the prison population. This would save lives and help to prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

One in seven men had developed a drug problem while at the prison. More than half said that it was easy to get drugs, and the extraordinarily high rate of positive drug tests – 30 per cent – indicated that they were right.

A lack of staff meant that men were spending longer locked in their cells with nothing to do. The importance of education, training and work was not given enough priority across the prison and few prisoners attended.

Staff shortages also affected work to prepare prisoners for release. One in three men was released to homelessness or temporary accommodation.

The prison was dirty and infested with cockroaches. One man told the Chief Inspector that at night he did not use his toilet because he was fed up with inadvertently crunching the insects under his bare feet in the dark. Instead, he used the sink, which was closer to his bed.

The findings come a week after the Chief Inspector published his annual report, which concluded that the state was failing in its duty to people in prison.

Disturbances in two other prisons – Hewell and Aylesbury – were reported over the weekend.

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 copy of the Bristol prison inspection report will be available from Tuesday 25 July on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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