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A sign on the wall in the grounds of the prison. HMP Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Punishment in prison

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Everything you need to know about the prison adjudications system

A new MoJ report dedicated to the subject of adjudications reveals that the number of this official prison punishments rose by an average of 10% every year between 2014 and 2018, despite the prison population remaining fairly stable.

The Adjudications Story 2011-2018 gives a detailed insight into the internal prison sanctions system.

This blog post highlights some of the facts I found most interesting.

Many more adjudications but a smaller percentage proven

The total volume of adjudications increased by 71% from 119,678 to 204,715 between 2011 and 2018. However, those with different outcomes have grown at different paces… Between 2011 and 2018, dismissed adjudications and those not proceeded with have more than doubled, while proven adjudications have increased by 52%. 

Consequently, there has been a fall in the proportion of adjudications that are proven from 73% of all adjudications in 2011 to 65% in 2018. 

Adjudications mainly on younger prisoners

Despite an ageing prison population, throughout 2011 and 2018 the 21 – 29 age group continued to dominate, representing 42% of all adjudications in 2018. Older age groups all saw an increase in the volumes of adjudications against them. The numbers for 30 – 39 and both 50 – 59 year olds more than doubled.

However, 50 – 59 year olds still accounted for just 3% of adjudications in 2018. 21 – 29 year olds saw a 83% increase, despite the proportion of the prison population represented by this demographic falling from 35% to 29%.

The number of adjudications against 15 – 17 and 18 – 20 year olds decreased by 20% and 15% respectively between 2011 and 2018.

Offences

In 2011, disobedience and disrespect accounted for the largest percentage of total adjudications, with 37% of all adjudications falling into this category.

In 2017, unauthorised transactions became the most common offence for the first time ever, making up 35% of adjudications offences. This trend continued in 2018. Unauthorised transactions refer to a set of offences that deal
with the purchase, sale, possession, consumption, transportation, or other of unauthorised or illegal articles. 

Assaults on staff

In 2018 there were 6,449 adjudications for assaults on staff and 361 attempts of assaults on staff. 21 – 29 year olds had the most adjudications for assaults on staff, with 2,965, representing 46% of the total for all age groups, in part as they constituted 29% of the population. However,15 – 17 and 18 – 20 year olds represented a much larger share of adjudications relative to their population.

Punishments

Forfeiture of privileges remained the most commonly awarded punishment between 2011 and 2018. 41% of punishments were forfeiture of privileges in both 2011 and 2018.  All punishments increased in line with the greater volume of adjudications, however the proportion of times that days were added to time in custody doubled within the same period.  Extra work was consistently the most infrequently awarded punishment over this time period.

Additional days are becoming a more frequently used punishment. In 2011, 5% of all punishments were awards of additional days. In 2018, this percentage increased to 10%. Since 2015 this was mirrored by an equivalent increase in the actual days added to time in custody, except in 2013 when the actual number of days fell briefly. In 2018, awards of additional days reached a record high of 22,365. This is over 2.5 times greater than the 2011 figure. There was an
average yearly increase of 17%.

Conclusions

It is no great surprise that as prisons have gone out of control and levels of violence and self-harm have escalated, so the prison system has tried to respond by imposing more sanctions on prisoners.

Of course, ordering some of the least compliant prisoners to spend more time in an unsafe custodial environment by imposing additional days merely adds another component to the vicious downwards spiral in which are prisons are currently trapped.

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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