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19 Oct 2016

Howard League responds to alleged murder in Pentonville prison

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Wednesday 19 October) responded to an incident in Pentonville prison, in which a man died and another two men were critically injured.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Sadly, this latest fatal incident in our prisons should come as no surprise, given the crisis in safety behind bars which has mounted in recent years.

“Assaults in prison have increased by more than 30 per cent in the space of a year alone. Suicides are at a 10-year high and there were more alleged prison homicides in 2015 than in any other year on record.

“A toxic cocktail of prison overcrowding and under-resourcing means that prisons like Pentonville are increasingly losing any semblance of control on what goes on behind bars.

“How much longer before this national emergency is recognised for what it is and radical action is taken to reduce the number of people being exposed to lawlessness and violence?”

The Ministry of Justice has previously announced plans to close ageing Victorian jails such as Pentonville and build new prisons to replace them.

But Howard League analysis of safety in custody statistics has revealed alarmingly high levels of violence in the newest prisons in England and Wales.

Figures for prisons opened since 1994 show that there have been four suspected homicides in the last two years.

Frances Crook said: “Pentonville is an iconic prison, both because of its age and design but also because it is brutal and squalid. It is designed to accommodate 900 men, but it is actually holding almost 1,300.

“Government attempts to build a way out of a crisis will end in failure, however, and, as our analysis shows, violence is rife in the newest prisons in England and Wales.

“If old buildings were the cause of the problem, we would be tearing down Oxbridge. The real cause of this explosion in assaults behind bars is the decision to starve jails of resources while allowing the prison population to grow unchecked.

“Solving the problem will require imaginative thinking and bold action to stop throwing so many people into these failing institutions, where they are swept away into deeper currents of crime.”

Death and violence in new prisons

Prison Opened


in last five years


since opening

Total assaults


Serious assaults 2015 Assaults on staff 2015
Altcourse 1997 1 (2014) 24 414 78 93
Bronzefield 2004 1 95 3 29
Doncaster 1994 1 (2015) 29 698 109 96
Isis 2010 0 192 10 54
Lowdham Grange 1998 1 231 56 65
Oakwood 2012 1 263 38 65
Parc 1997 1 (2016) 19 618 101 82
Peterborough 2004 1 (2015) 7 350 43 128
Rye Hill 2001 3 91 25 29
Thameside 2012 2 461 85 126

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.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
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