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”
On Tuesday, an Urgent Question was granted by Mr. Speaker on the announcement by the Prison Officers union that they will be working to rule following the continued rise in attacks on both themselves and other inmates by prisoners.
As you know, I have been campaigning within the Justice Select Committee and the floor of the House for the Government to tackle the rise in attacks, some of which result in deaths. Our prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. The Government have spent the last 6 years cutting the number of prison officers only to realise that in doing so they have put the effectiveness of prisons at a terrible risk. Read more “Urgent Question: Prison Officers”
I am deeply concerned that there has been a dramatic fall in the number of cases taken to employment tribunals.
This news broke following a review by the Government into its own policy to introduce £1,200 fees for people wanting to bring forward their cases. The Government’s own report detailed how employment tribunal cases slumped by 78% in the first year of fees – mainly affecting low-paid women.
The review said the total number of employment tribunal claims fell from 195,570 the year before fees to 43,951 the year after. The number of claims rose again to 74,979 the year after, but that still represented a 62% drop on the year before fees were introduced. Read more “Employment Tribunal Cases”
Yesterday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss MP, into the reform of our prison system is too little too late. Reform has been needed for years, but this Government and the previous Coalition Government dodged the much needed reforms. Instead of choosing the right path of reform they decided to revert to type and cut prison officer numbers and investment into the prison estate.
Since the Tories have been in power they have presided over a cut of 7,000 prison officers. When Labour left office we had 49,230 prison officers maintaining safety in prisons and ensuring that it produced an environment where rehabilitation could progress. As of March 2016 there are only 43,540 prison officers. The Tory cuts have undermined prison safety and seen attacks on prison officer’s increase by 41%. Delve deeper into those figures and you will see a 31% increase in serious assaults on officers. That isn’t even over 5 years, that is just within one single year; a shocking figure. Read more “My Response to the Prison Reform Announcement made by the Justice Secretary”