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Netting to prevent prisoners from attempting to commit suicide on the Vulnerable Prisoners Unit. HMP Wandsworth, London, United Kingdom
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

10 Prisons Project heralded as a success

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Official statistics show drug use halved and there was a 16% reduction in assaults in the jails in the MoJ's 10 prisons project.

This morning the MoJ issued a press release stating that its 10 prisons project has successfully cut drug use and violence; claiming an overall 16% reduction in assaults and a 50% reduction in positive drug tests across the 10 prisons.

What is the 10 prisons project?

Last August, then Prisons Minister Rory Stewart announced a package of measures designed to lift standards at 10 jails, which have “acute” problems, saying that the project would pave the way for a “new ethos” across the estate in England and Wales.

The ten prisons were: Hull, Humber, Isis, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, Nottingham, Ranby, and Wormwood Scrubs.

The project was designed to focus on challenging violent and disruptive behaviour and included £10 million funding to fight drugs, improve security and, crucially, boost leadership capabilities through new training. The idea was that the 10 prisons would serve as models of excellence for the rest of the estate to follow.

The four bullet points below summarise the project’s ambitions and are reproduced from the MoJ’s original press release.

The MoJ issued a special set of statistics detailing the performance of the ten prisons. Here’s my brief summary of what they tell us.

Assaults

The 10 Prisons Statistics state that the number of assaults in the ten prisons dropped by 17%, from an average of 399 in June/August 2018 to 331 in April/June 2019 and that, nationally, the number of assaults decreased by 8% across the same time period. 

These data have confused me since the latest official prison safety statistics (published on 25 July)  found that there was a record number of assaults in the 12 month period ending in March 2019, an increase of 11% on the previous year. This suggests there has been a massive drop in assaults in the last three month period although we will have to wait until the end of October to have this confirmed.

The MoJ also provides data tables on a prison by prison basis and it is clear that performance varies considerably on a prison by prison basis.

The number of assaults in HMP Humber decreased from 47 in the period June-August last year to 29 in April-June this year while the prison population increased slightly.

However, the number of assaults at Wormwood Scrubs rose from 34 to 51 across the same two periods despite the average prison population falling by 8%.

Random Mandatory Drug Tests

The 10 Prisons Statistics provided data up to March 2019 due to the time delays in analysing the samples.
The percentage of positive results from random drug tests dropped between August 2018 and March 2019. In March 2019, 13.4% of RMDTs were positive; a decrease of 50% or 13.2 percentage points since August 2018 although the MoJ does say that the number of prisoners sampled is relatively small and so month-on-month fluctuations should be interpreted with caution. You can see that this is true from the table of MDT tests reproduced below which, rather provocatively, shows that the number of MDT tests carried out dropped markedly throughout the year:

Conclusion

These are tricky figures to analyse. My analysis is inconclusive and I would want to have more definitive figure over a longer period of time to agree with the MoJ’s assessment that the project has been a success.

Unfortunately, this won’t be possible as the press release makes it clear that the project has now been wound up.

We must hope that some of the participating prisons learnt some positive lessons that can be shared across the prison estate. 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

 

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