Prison Reform Needed Now More Than Ever

by George McBride

The Ministry of Justice today released it’s latest Safety in Custody Statistics Bulletin. The key message is clear: those in custody and those working in custodial institutions are not safe.

The statistics paint a bleak picture of worryingly unsafe prisons. Assaults have continued to increase, reaching a record high of 26,643 incidents in the 12 months to March 2017, up 4,461 (20%) from the previous year. Of these, 3,606 (or 14%) were serious assaults, up 22% from the previous year. 7,159 staff were assaulted in the year ending March 2017, an increase of 1,750. Self harm has stabilised but at a record high and deaths have dropped but only very slightly since the 2016 record high.

These statistics can be understood in the context of the rather vague Ministry of Justice release at the beginning of the month stating that over 225kgs of drugs were seized from custodial institutions in 2016. With staffing at record lows and prisons desperately overcrowded, many of our prisons have become awash with drugs, as well as the debt and violence that so often come with uncontrolled drug markets in socially deprived communities.

We continue to lobby for reform to put good drug policy, informed by drug users and practiced by properly trained and funded staff, at the heart of prison management. The efforts of those helping us is more essential than ever.

Watch a video of our recent event, High Stakes: Prison Drug Policy Symposium here.

You can read a review of the event here.

Commenting on today’s (27 July) publication of safety in custody statistics by the Ministry of Justice, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“These numbers confirm what the Chief Inspector of Prisons has described in graphic detail—that our prison system is nowhere near being safe for those who live and work within it. The appalling loss of life and toll of despair requires something more immediate than the promise of more staff and new prisons. In the short term, the provision of much cheaper and easier access to a legitimate phone system would make a day to day difference—and provide some consolation to the families of prisoners wondering if their loved ones are safe inside.”

George McBride is Head of Advocacy at VolteFace. Read his policy report ‘High Stakes: An inquiry into Drugs in UK Prisons’ HERE.

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