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19 Jun 2018

Howard League responds to Woodhill prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Woodhill prison, published today (Tuesday 19 June).

Nineteen men have lost their lives through suicide in Woodhill since 2011. Inspectors visited the prison in February and found that it was struggling to sustain improvement in its care for vulnerable prisoners.

Staff shortages meant that there had been a restricted daily routine for three years. From a staffing complement of 320 officers there were, at the time of the inspection, 55 vacancies. One in five officers had less than 12 months’ experience.

Woodhill remains overcrowded. Figures on the Howard League website show that, although the prison is designed to accommodate 539 men, but at the end of last month it was holding 608.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Woodhill is a relatively new, purpose-built prison that has failed to keep people safe, which gives the lie to the myth so often trotted out by ministers that Victorian buildings are to blame for the many problems in the system.

“Rather, the long list of tragedies in Woodhill and elsewhere is the direct result of a catastrophic policy to allow the prison population to grow unchecked while starving jails of vital resources.

“The government is recruiting more officers, but ultimately this is only one side of the supply-and-demand solution that is needed to fix the crisis. Ministers must also reduce the demand that is being placed on prisons.

“I welcome the recent reduction in the number of men and women in prison achieved through pressure to curtail short sentences and release people promptly, but at some point the government must grasp the nettle and deal with sentence inflation.

“Bold but sensible action to reduce further the number of people behind bars would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence 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.
  2. The Howard League and another charity, Centre for Mental Health, have worked together on a joint programme on preventing people from dying by suicide in prison. Further information about the programme can be found on the Howard League website.
  3. Overcrowding figures for each prison in England and Wales can be found on the Howard League website.
  4. A copy of the Woodhill inspection report will be available from Tuesday 19 June on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


Rob Preece
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