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22 Mar 2018

Howard League responds to Leeds prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Leeds prison, published today (Thursday 22 March).

Inspectors visited the prison in October and November last year and found that it was unsafe – with 91 per cent of cells holding more prisoners than they were designed for.

When the inspectors arrived, they found that four men had lost their lives through suicide since the prison was last inspected in December 2015. A fifth man died during the inspection. The day after the inspection ended, there was an apparent homicide in the jail, and a few days after that a sixth suicide.

Violence was high, and several staff had been suspended or dismissed for misbehaviour when using force. More than 60 per cent of prisoners told inspectors that it was easy to get hold of drugs.

Almost half the staff working in the prison were still in their probationary period, and prisoners expressed frustration at their inexperience and lack of knowledge of basic procedures.

Research by the Howard League has shown that more than 4,400 additional days of imprisonment were imposed on men in Leeds prison following disciplinary hearings, known as adjudications, in 2016 – an indication of a troubled jail.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “There is surely no clearer illustration of the dangers of prison overcrowding than this report on Leeds. It is almost impossible to comprehend the scale of the chaos in a jail where 91 per cent of cells are holding more people than they are designed to accommodate.

“This is the direct result of policy decisions to allow the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked while starving prisons of resources. A staff recruitment drive has begun, but almost half the staff in Leeds are very inexperienced – and they are being asked to do the impossible. It is no wonder that violence and drug use are rife.

“Most worrying of all is the tragic fact that, within the space of 23 months, six men in Leeds have lost their lives through suicide and a seventh has died in an apparent homicide. If this grim reality does not compel the government to act, it is hard to imagine what would.

“The urgent need for bold action to reduce the prison population is inescapable. Ministers must move decisively to save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of violence, drugs and despair.”

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 Leeds prison inspection report will be available from Thursday 22 March on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
  1. Overcrowding figures for each prison in England and Wales can be found on the Howard League website.
  1. The imposition of additional days of imprisonment is the focus of a Howard League report, Out of control: punishment in prison.


Rob Preece
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