The state of our prison system
Just before Christmas (18 December 2017), the Prison Reform Trust published its most recent “Bromley Briefing” – an up-to-date compendium of facts that give an accurate, if depressing account of the state of our prison system.
If you ever need the latest, official information on anything to do with the penal system, the most recent briefing is always your best source.
Below are ten headline facts from the latest edition; for regular readers I’ve tried to pick the less obvious ones.
1: England & Wales has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe
2: We are sentencing people to longer prison sentences
More than three times as many people were sentenced to 10 years or more in the 12 months to June 2017 than at the same time in 2007. For more serious, indictable offences, the average prison sentence is now 56.6 months—23 and a half months longer than 10 years ago.
3: There has been a big increase in the number of recalls
8,309 people serving a sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison in the year to June 2017.
4: Prison conditions are deteriorating
More than two-fifths (42%) of our prisons are rated “of concern” or “of serious concern” by HM Prisons and Probation Service—the highest level ever recorded.
There are now more prisons rated “of serious concern” than “exceptional”. The number of prisons rated “exceptional” has plummeted from 43 in 2011–12 to only nine in 2016–17.
Three-quarters (74%) of people told inspectors that most staff treated them with respect. However, significantly reduced staffing in most prisons mean that many prisoners report felt unsupported and frustrated at not being able to get day-to-day concerns addressed.
Only one in seven people said they spent 10 hours or more out of their cell each day and nearly one in three people (31%) held in a local prison said they spent less than two hours out of their cell each day.
5: Prison food is not nutritious
The daily prison food budget within public sector prisons for 2015–16 was £2.02 per person.
6: Prison spending on the increase
Total expenditure in 2016–17 was £3,723m—£206m more than the year before.
7: Our prison population has multiple and complex needs
People on remand currently make up 12% of the total prison population—9,902 people. The majority are awaiting trial (70%), whilst the rest await sentencing.
More than one in ten people (9,765) remanded in custody during the year to June 2017 were subsequently acquitted. A further 14% of people (12,593) received a non-custodial sentence.
Nearly three in 10 (28%) self-inflicted deaths in 2016 were by people held on remand.
9: Older prisoners
16% of the prison population are aged 50 or over—13,601 people. Of these 3,251 are in their 60s and a further 1,601 people are 70 or older.
The number of over 50s in prison is projected to rise to 14,800 by 2021—an increase of 11%. The most significant change is anticipated in the over 70s, projected to rise by 31%.
45% of men in prison aged over 50 have been convicted of sex offences. The next highest offence category is violence against the person (23%) followed by drug offences (9%).
Six out of 10 older prisoners (59%) report having a long-standing illness or disability. This compares with just over a quarter (27%) of younger prisoners.
10: Prisoners with learning disabilities
Nearly three in 10 people (29%) were identified as having a learning disability or difficulty following assessment on entry to prison in 2015–16.
7% of people in contact with the criminal justice system have a learning disability—this compares with around 2% of the general population.
Prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties are more likely than other prisoners to have broken a prison rule; they are five times as likely to have been subject to control and restraint, and around three times as likely to report having spent time in segregation.
Despite isolated good practice, for example at HMPs Parc and Littlehey, inspectors found that there has been a lack of focus and leadership from central government which has meant that little discernible progress has been made in improving the lives of this vulnerable group of offenders.
Inspectors have found that “little thought was given to the need to adapt regimes to meet the needs of prisoners with learning disabilities who may find understanding and following prison routines very difficult.”
However, more than half of prisons inspected this year were actively identifying and supporting prisoners with learning disabilities—a marked improvement on previous years.
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