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25 Jul 2019

Howard League calls on Johnson government to make prison fairness and safety a key priority

The Howard League for Penal Reform today (Thursday 25 July) calls on Boris Johnson’s new government to make fairness and safety in prisons a key priority as figures reveal record levels of self-injury and violence behind bars.

A statistical bulletin published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows that prisons in England and Wales recorded 57,968 incidents of self-injury in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 – at a rate of one every nine minutes. This was an increase of 24 per cent.

Over the same period, prisons recorded a total of 34,425 assault incidents – an 11 per cent rise on the previous year. This included 10,311 assaults on staff.

The figures show that 309 people died in prison custody in the 12 months to June 2019, including 86 people who lost their lives through suicide.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s own prison performance ratings, 86 per cent of prisons in England and Wales are rated as having a performance of ‘concern’ or ‘serious concern’ as regards dealing with violence and self-injury.

The prisons rated of ‘serious concern’ are Aylesbury, Bedford, Birmingham, Bristol, Chelmsford, Feltham, Liverpool, The Mount, Nottingham, Onley, Pentonville, Portland, Rochester, Wandsworth, Winchester and Wormwood Scrubs.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Every nine minutes, someone in prison hurts themselves. This is a truly shocking statistic. If the new Prime Minister was in any doubt about the urgent need to improve safety in prisons, today’s figures must surely alert him to the scale of the task at hand.

“Turning this around will require real focus, and for that reason it is welcome that the former prisons minister Robert Buckland has been promoted to the role of Secretary of State for Justice, to provide continuity, expertise and commitment to reform.

“Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice published a raft of research showing how to reduce violence, conflict and reoffending. Simple measures, like making sure people get a decent diet and exercise, can be done immediately.

“There is clear evidence that gross overcrowding must be dealt with to embed safety and decency, and that means reducing the use of prison. They know what do to, now is the time to do it.”

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 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 statistical bulletin, Safety in custody quarterly update to March 2019, can be found online.


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