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15 Jun 2017

Howard League responds to Brixton prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Brixton prison, published today (Thursday 15 June).

Inspectors visited the prison, in south London, in January and found that safety had deteriorated significantly. Brixton was understaffed and, although it was designated to accommodate only 530 men, it was actually holding 715.

Incidents of self-injury had quadrupled since the last inspection. Violence had increased, too, with 57 assaults on prisoners, 21 fights and 37 assaults on staff recorded in the preceding six months. Inspectors found that the prison’s response was “wholly inadequate”.

The prison was “awash with drugs”. Well over half of prisoners told inspectors that it was easy to get drugs, and one in four men tested positive. Inspectors saw men openly smoking cannabis, and the use of new psychoactive substances was also affecting the prison’s stability.

Many prisoners were held in extremely cramped conditions lacking privacy and decency. They were unable to get enough cleaning materials and had to use inadequate or unscreened toilets.

One in four prisoners was locked in his cell during the working day, and some men had become frustrated and demotivated because they were unable to get to work and education. Attendance at English and maths lessons was often only about 25 per cent. Ofsted judged the effectiveness of learning and skills to be “inadequate” overall.

Although specialist housing advice was available to all prisoners, one in four men released from Brixton in the last six months had left the prison with no fixed address.

The findings come only 24 hours after the inspectorate published a critical report on another London prison, Pentonville, which raised concerns about safety and overcrowding.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is the second concerning inspection report on a London jail in as many days, and it demonstrates the scale of the problems in our dangerously overcrowded prison system.

“The men warehoused in Brixton prison can get drugs easily, but they cannot get the basics they need to clean their cramped and filthy cells. Violence is rife, and self-injury incidents have quadrupled since the last inspection. Enough is enough.

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

The inspection report points to a fourfold increase in adjudications in Brixton prison. This corresponds with research published by the Howard League, which has shown that 2,620 additional days of imprisonment were imposed on men in Brixton for breaking prison rules in 2015.

The Howard League’s report, A Million Days: The world of prison discipline, revealed how prisons across England and Wales were increasingly resorting to draconian punishments in a desperate and counter-productive attempt to keep control.

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. The Howard League’s report, A Million Days: The world of prison discipline, can be found on the charity’s website.
  1. A copy of the Brixton prison inspection report will be available from Thursday 15 June on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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