bromley briefing fi
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Another 10 distressing facts about our prisons

PRT's latest Bromley Briefing sheds more light on the deteriorating situation in our prisons.

Grateful thanks to Andy Aitchison for permission to use the image above.

Anyone and everyone who wants accurate up-to-date information on what is going on in our prisons relies on the prison factfiles produced by the Prison Reform Trust.

Known as the Bromley Briefings, they are issued twice a year. The Autumn 2018 issue was published on Monday (10 December 2018) and I have already covered its in-depth analysis of the UK’s over-use of life sentences. Today, in what has become a confirmed habit of this blog, I have  perused the Briefing in depth and found 10 key facts to share in this post. 

Since readers of the blog are more than averagely well informed about penal affairs, I have tried to pick out some of the less obvious facts.

1: The Prison Population is falling

Despite a 70% rise in the prison population over the last 30 years, the number of people in prison has actually fallen for the last two years in a row standing at 82,786 on 7 December. 
 

2: The number of people recalled to prison is rising

8,911 people serving a sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison in the year to June 2018. The recall rate is higher for women.

3: Resettlement work is suffering

Inspectors found meaningful work to reintegrate people back into the prison population in only a quarter of prisons they visited in 2017–18.

4: Prison staffing changes

Regular readers will know that the numbers of frontline prison staff was cut by 26% between 2010-2017 resulting in a big recruitment campaign when the impact of these cuts became clear. While 3,109 new officers were recruited last year, retention has proved problematic. The Bromley Briefing’s two charts reproduced below helpfully summarise the changes.

5: Bang-up

One in five people in prison (20%) said told prison inspectors that they spent less than two hours out of their cell each day. In local prisons, where people are first remanded or sentenced to custody and many approaching release are held, this increased to nearly a third (32%).

6: Discrimination against prisoners with disabilities

36% of people in prison are estimated to have a physical or mental disability. This compares with 19% of the general population. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners with a disability (63%) reported feeling unsafe—with nearly half (49%) saying they’d been victimised by other prisoners. Two-fifths of people in prison with a disability said they had been victimised by staff. One in seven people in prison with a disability said they had been restrained by staff in the last six months—compared with one in 10 people without a disability. People in prison with a disability were less likely to report being in training or having a job than those without a disability. They also report spending more time in their cells. A quarter of people with a disability said that they spent less that two hours out of their cells each weekday, compared with 18% of people without a disability.

7: Very old prisoners

Readers will know that there has been a big increase in the number of older prisoners with people aged 60 and over the fastest growing age group – there are now more than triple the number there were 16 years ago.

Bud did you know there were 234 people in prison aged 80 or over as of 31 December 2016? 219 were in their 80s, 14 were in their 90s, and 1 was over 100 years old—87% were in prison for sexual offences. The majority of 80 year olds in prison (92%) were aged 70 or older when sentenced to custody.

8: Drugs in prison

Nearly half of men (47%) and 31% of women reported that it was easy to get drugs in their prison. There were over 13,000 incidents where drugs were found in the year to March 2018. More than one in 10 (13%) adult men surveyed by inspectors reported that they had developed a problem with illicit drugs since they had arrived at prison. More than one in 10 random mandatory drug tests (MDT) in prison in 2017–18 were positive — the highest level since the year ending March 2006. This doubles to one in five, when psychoactive substances are included. The two charts below show differences in drug use by age and gender.

9: The smoking ban is fully implemented

Smoking has now been banned in all prisons in England and Wales. Inspectors found that the roll-out of the ban had “largely gone well”, however, in some prisons it had been linked to an increase in medical emergencies, as psychoactive substances were no longer diluted by tobacco. They also found that there had been some abuse of nicotine replacement products.

10: Prison education failing

There have been declines in the number of people participating in learning whilst in prison, and in achieving qualifications in recent years. 78,000 adults in the prison system participated in education in the 2017–18 academic year—a drop of 12% in the last year. The number of people achieving qualifications fell by 13% in the last year. Despite a small increase in the number of people achieving level 3 qualifications (AS and A Level equivalent), all other levels declined. The number of English and maths qualifications achieved has also plummeted—numbers fell by 29% between the 2011–12 and 2017–18 academic years.

 

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