On Monday, the Government introduced its Prisons and Courts Bill. As a member of the Justice Select Committee we have been scrutinising the Government’s thinking regarding this Bill and we have come across several areas that we find worrying and with questions still left to be answered.
1. Independence of Prison Governors
2. Changes to small claims
3. The Government’s failure to tackle violence in prisons
It is now the case that 76 of the prisons in our estate—some 60%—are overcrowded, and have been deemed to be overcrowded by the prisons inspector. We have seen an increase of 39% in the number of deaths in prison custody over the last year alone, while there has been a 32% increase in self-inflicted deaths. There has also been a massive increase—22%—in the number of self-harm incidents reported. We have seen an increase in the number of assaults by prisoners on staff and on fellow prisoners. There has been an increase in the number of psychoactive substances found in prisons. There has been an increase in the number of mobile phones found in prisons, and, therefore, an increase in the number that are getting into prisons. Sadly, there has been a reduction of some 6,335—26% in the number of prison officers in the past seven years.
I believe that those facts are linked. We have fewer prison officers and the same number of prisoners—prisoners who, for a range of reasons, are more difficult and more challenging and, in many cases, have been convicted of more violent offences. The reduction in prison officer numbers has a real impact on the other statistics. While I do not object to the aims of clause 1 —indeed, I support them—I think that we need to think about what they mean in practice, and about how the White Paper is linked to them. Read more “Prisons and Courts Bill”