Violent Attacks on British Prison Staff Increasing

October 26, 2017 Updated: October 27, 2017

Prisons in England and Wales are seeing a sharp increase in violent attacks on staff—up to 20 per day.

A record high of 27,193 assaults were recorded between June 2016 and June 2017. Of these, 7,437 were attacks on prison staff, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

“Serious” attacks, attacks resulting in burning, significant bruising, broken bones, or necessitating medical treatment, numbered 798.

Most of the violence took place in male prisons, but the same growth in violence can be seen in female facilities.

There were 344 attacks on staff in women’s prisons, the highest number recorded since June 2008.

“Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime.”—Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications, Prison Reform Trust

Prisoner-on-prisoner violence accounted for 19,678 incidents, with almost 3,000 classed as serious. This is a 10 percent increase over the prior year.

Self-harm amounted to 41,103 incidents in the same June-to-June reporting period, a 12 percent increase.

Fatalities were down 8 percent from June 2016 to September 2017, however. Three homicides, 77 suicides, and 220 other deaths were reported.

Prisoners at HMP (Her Majesty's Prison) Pentonville walk through an atrium May 19, 2003 in London. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
An atrium at HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Pentonville May 19, 2003, in London. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Too Many Prisoners in Too Little Space

A report published by the nonprofit Prison Reform Trust (PRT) states overcrowding in Britain’s prisons has been caused by tougher sentencing rather than an increase in crime. Since 1991, offenders of petty crimes are three times more likely to be imprisoned.

“Despite a small but welcome fall in deaths, every other indicator points to the ongoing and long-standing deterioration in standards of safety in our overstretched prisons,” said Mark Day, head of policy and communications at the Prison Reform Trust, on the group’s website.

Overcrowding can be blamed for some of the increase in violence. Insufficient staff contributes.

“Record levels of self-harm and assaults highlight mounting levels of frustration and despair among prisoners. Too many prisoners are held in overcrowded and impoverished conditions with too few staff to provide a safe and constructive regime,” Day continued.

“With prison numbers projected to increase, declining levels of safety will be very difficult to turn around without a concerted effort by ministers to take the pressure off the system by reducing prison numbers,” he concluded.

Britain’s prison system has been rocked by scandals recently. Along with overcrowding, prisons are rife with drugs, illegal cellphones, and other contraband.

Britain's Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary David Lidington delivers his speech on the third day of the Conservative Party annual conference on October 3, 2017.(Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)
Britain’s Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary David Lidington delivers his speech on the third day of the Conservative Party annual conference on Oct. 3, 2017. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

Justice Secretary David Lidington said he was under no illusions about the scale of the challenge in prisons.

“Our prison staff work incredibly hard and I am under no illusions about the challenges they face. More officers on the wings will improve the safety of our prisons.

“That is why we are investing £100 million to boost the front line. We have already recruited 1,290 extra prison officers over the past year—taking us over half way to our target—but we won’t stop there.

“I am also determined to give officers the tools they need to manage violent offenders—investing £2 million in body-worn cameras, which will act as a visible deterrent against violence and assist with prosecutions, as well as introducing new-style handcuffs and piloting PAVA incapacitant spray.”

Lidington is promoting a bill to increase the penalties on those who attack emergency workers, including corrections officers.

“I have been clear that it will take time, but I am determined to tackle the issues that undermine prison safety,” Lidington concluded.

A general view of HMP Berwyn on March 15, 2017 in Wrexham, Wales. The mainly category C prison is one of the biggest jails in Europe capable of housing around to 2,100 inmates. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
A general view of HMP Berwyn on March 15, 2017, in Wrexham, Wales. The mainly category C prison is one of the biggest jails in Europe capable of housing around to 2,100 inmates. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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