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28 Jul 2023

Howard League responds to Bristol prison Urgent Notification

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded after His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote an Urgent Notification letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, highlighting extremely concerning conditions in Bristol prison.

This is the second consecutive Urgent Notification for Bristol prison. The first one followed an inspection in 2019. When inspectors returned earlier this month, they found that it was severely overcrowded and remained one of the most unsafe prisons in the country.

In his letter to the Secretary of State for Justice on Wednesday (26 July), the Chief Inspector, Charlie Taylor, wrote that Bristol had levels of recorded violence higher than almost all other adult prisons.

Eight men had taken their own lives since the last inspection, most of whom had done so within the last ten months. One man had recently been charged with murdering his cellmate.

Almost half the men were sharing cells designed for one, and some men were being held in single cells with no internal sanitation.

Most men spent up to 22 hours a day locked inside their cells. Almost half of the men who were surveyed by inspectors said that it was easy to get drugs in the prison.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When a prison is made the subject of an Urgent Notification, as Bristol was in 2019, you would expect it to be given extra support and the resources it needs to improve. That Bristol remains, four years on, one of the most unsafe prisons in the country is a crushing indictment of a system that has been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long.

“There are grim details to be found throughout the Chief Inspector’s briefing, but most worrying of all is his accurate assessment that the problems in Bristol – staff shortages, overcrowding, unstable leadership and aging facilities – can be found in other jails up and down the country.

“Bristol follows Exeter in being the second men’s prison to receive consecutive Urgent Notifications. With the prison population in England and Wales having risen by more than 4,000 since the beginning of the year, putting jails under enormous pressure, the logical question might be: ‘Where next?’

“Sensible steps to reduce prison numbers would save lives, protect staff and help more people to move on from crime.”

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 debriefing paper for the inspection of Bristol prison will be made available on the His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons website at:



Noor Khan

Press and Public Affairs Officer

Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7873




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