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14 Dec 2015

Howard League report reveals rising levels of punishment in prison

Almost 160,000 days – or 438 years – of additional imprisonment were imposed on prisoners found to have broken prison rules last year, a report published by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveals today.

Punishment in Prison: The world of prison discipline looks at how jails in England and Wales operate disciplinary hearings called adjudications, where allegations of rule-breaking are tried.

Punishment in Prison report cover

The hearings, which cost between £400,000 and £500,000 a year in total, mainly concern disobedience, disrespect or property offences, which increase as prisons lose control under pressure of overcrowding and staff cuts.

A prisoner found guilty at an adjudication can face punishments ranging from loss of canteen to solitary confinement and extra days of imprisonment.

The report reveals that the number of adjudications where extra days could be imposed has increased by 47 per cent since 2010.

The number of extra days imposed on children has almost doubled in two years – from 1,383 in 2012 to 2,683 in 2014 – even though the number of children in prison has almost halved.

The rise in the number of adjudications has come at a time when prisons across England and Wales are struggling to overcome problems caused by a growing prisoner population, chronic overcrowding and cuts of almost 40 per cent to frontline staffing.

Violence and self-injury in prisons are at their highest levels in a decade. In addition, there have been eight suspected homicides during 2015 – the highest number in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “‎The system of adjudications has become a monster, imposing fearsome punishments when people misbehave often as a result of the dreadful conditions they are subjected to. This bureaucratic, costly and time-consuming system of punishments then further feeds pressure on the prisons, creating a vicious cycle of troubled prisons and troubling prisoners.

“The principle of independent adjudication where liberty is at risk is an important one. ‎But prisons have come to rely too heavily on the threat of additional days. The Ministry of Justice should curtail the use of additional days in all but the most serious cases. The overuse of adjudications is not seen as fair, it is not fair, and the imposition of additional days is very expensive and counterproductive.”

Most adjudications are tried by a prison governor before whom there is no right to legal representation, except in very limited circumstances. Cases that are sufficiently serious to attract the risk of additional days may be referred to a visiting district judge.

Additional days will extend a prisoner’s date of release, but they cannot be imposed beyond the final end date of the sentence. This means that the most challenging prisoners could be released without any period on licence in the community.

The report states that adjudications are too inflexible to deal sensitively with the needs of vulnerable children and people with mental health problems. The process and punishments often make their problems worse.

Under the current system, two prisoners breaking the same rule can be given different punishments depending on whether they are on remand or sentenced, and the category of sentence they have received.

Similarly, two children breaking the same rule can get different punishments depending on the type of institution they are detained in.

The number of extra days imposed on children has almost doubled in two years – from 1,383 in 2012 to 2,683 in 2014 – even though the number of children in prison has almost halved.

Case study – James

James was a troubled but likeable child aged 17. He grew up in care, moving from care home to care home. He was excluded from school. By the age of 12 he was known to the police. By the age of 16 he was convicted of a serious offence. He received a three-year prison sentence.

James was placed in a prison for children aged 15 to 17. When he first contacted the Howard League he had been in prison for almost a year. He had only been allowed access to education a handful of times. He had spent long periods of time in the segregation block or confined to his cell for up to 23-and-a-half hours a day without a television or radio.

James can be difficult and disruptive. He sees violence as a survival technique in prison. But he is not beyond hope. He can engage with staff and professionals once he has established a relationship of trust. He engaged with a counsellor in prison, with whom he formed a bond.

Professionals believe that he may have mental health problems, but he has not been formally assessed.

He had numerous adjudications for fighting and disobedience. He received at least 169 extra days. James was originally due to be released as a child. The additional days meant he was released as an adult without the full support of social services as a “looked after” child.

The additional days to be served at the end of his sentence did not deter James from breaking prison rules.

Additional days imposed in private prisons in 2014


Prison Additional days imposed Average population
Altcourse (G4S) 1,344 1,119
Birmingham (G4S) 4,011 1,431
Bronzefield (Sodexo) 1,058 499
Doncaster (Serco) 753 1,124
Dovegate (Serco) 1,099 1,107
Forest Bank (Sodexo) 3,427 1,430
Lowdham Grange (Serco) 525 908
Northumberland (Sodexo) 4,640 1,333
Oakwood (G4S) 4,934 1,582
Parc (G4S) 4,224 1,401
Peterborough (Sodexo) 681 942
Rye Hill (G4S) 417 602
Thameside (Serco) 63 883
TOTAL 27,176 14,361

Additional days imposed in public prisons in 2014


Prison Additional days imposed Average population
Aylesbury 9,428 418
Bedford 203 492
Belmarsh 229 876
Brinsford 3,288 461
Bristol 1,738 595
Brixton 1,891 734
Buckley Hall 111 447
Bullingdon 903 1,095
Bure 81 627
Cardiff 1,229 800
Channings Wood 709 722
Chelmsford 545 661
Coldingley 510 510
Cookham Wood 207 139
Dartmoor 1,287 649
Deerbolt 2,818 483
Drake Hall 1,274 309
Durham 85 931
Eastwood Park 943 333
Elmley 2,932 1,223
Erlestoke 694 498
Exeter 869 531
Featherstone 2,491 685
Feltham 2,163 565
Ford 994 491
Foston Hall 236 289
Frankland 305 774
Full Sutton 497 601
Garth 354 733
Glen Parva 2,343 672
Guys Marsh 1,189 564
Haverigg 0 636
Hewell 1,954 1,273
High Down 354 1,143
Highpoint 4,366 1,325
Hindley 1,543 283
Holloway 721 525
Holme House 969 1,203
Hull 84 843
Huntercombe 126 405
Isis 3,629 613
Isle of Wight 281 1,131
Kennet 709 279
Kirkham 176 595
Kirklevington 98 285
Lancaster Farms 2,801 414
Leeds 260 1,209
Leicester 1,247 364
Lewes 1,698 673
Leyhill 167 484
Lincoln 1,063 669
Lindholme 3,013 1,000
Littlehey 1,513 1,085
Liverpool 4,265 1,237
Long Lartin 310 613
Low Newton 411 308
Maidstone 35 589
Manchester 754 1,140
Moorland 612 1,268
Mount 2,333 774
New Hall 934 400
Norwich 1,265 754
Nottingham 1,186 1,065
Onley 2,075 694
Portland 2,489 567
Preston 2,010 702
Ranby 2,531 1,081
Risley 408 1,098
Rochester 8,048 739
Stafford 1,002 711
Standford Hill 85 449
Stocken 1,633 839
Stoke Heath 3,693 650
Styal 733 438
Sudbury 2,659 552
Swaleside 3,894 1,108
Swansea 1,584 438
Swinfen Hall 3,216 585
Thorn Cross 14 327
Wakefield 368 744
Wandsworth 3,525 1,608
Wayland 2,086 990
Wealstun 3,358 804
Wetherby 517 205
Whatton 0 834
Whitemoor 107 452
Winchester 497 671
Woodhill 916 784
Wormwood Scrubs 2,615 1,252
Wymott 835 1,107
TOTAL 132,321 63,922

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. Copies of Punishment in Prison: The world of prison discipline can be downloaded here.
  3. The figures were provided by Andrew Selous, the Minister for Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing, in an answer to written questions tabled on 26 June 2015.


Rob Preece
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