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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Too much violence, drugs and inactivity in prison

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The Chief Inspector of Prisons annual report highlights men's local and training prisons as "the most troubled part of the prison estate".

This Tuesday (9 July 2019) Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke published his annual report which highlighted unprecedented levels of violence, drugs and inactivity across the prison estate. He highlighted three key areas in the accompanying press release.

The most troubled part of the prison estate

As in previous years, men’s local and training prisons – with their high throughput of prisoners, often worn-out fabric, vulnerable populations and levels of violence and illicit drugs use – caused most concern.

The report also discloses significant prisoner vulnerability. Across the service, levels of self‑harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year.

Mr Clarke said the prison service response to the “deluge of drugs flowing into many prisons in recent years,” generating debt, bullying and violence, had often been slow and neither robust nor sophisticated. “The introduction of new technology that is necessary to help counter the threat has been patchy.”

The extraordinary dedication of staff

Inspectors were struck, as in previous years, “by the extraordinary dedication of those who work in our prisons. Their work is difficult, often dangerous, largely unseen by the public and, as a result, little understood.

“Many worked through a period in which reduced resources, both in terms of staff and investment, made it extremely difficult to run some of our jails.” New staff deserved support in an environment where, in too many establishments, drug-fuelled violence remained a daily reality.

Variations in performance and the quality of leadership

The report highlights evidence that performance varies between comparable prisons and makes clear the Chief Inspector’s view that the quality of leadership is a vital factor. “Some issues that have an adverse impact on prisoners are often outside the control of prison leaders.

“However, there is much that is firmly within the control of those whose responsibility it is to lead and manage these complex establishments. It is as clear as day… that the variations in performance of apparently comparable jails is directly influenced by the quality of their leadership.

Key findings

The report contains information from inspections of adult prisons and children’s detention, as well as immigration and other forms of detention.

  • Men’s prisons: Too many prisoners were still being held in prisons that were unsafe. Levels of violence had increased in more than half the prisons we inspected.
  • Respectful detention and living conditions: Inspectors noted the positive impact of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks for prisoners to make applications, health care appointments, arrange visits and make complaints. However, far too many prisoners still endured very poor and overcrowded living conditions. Though around two-thirds of prisoners overall were positive about the way they were treated by staff, inspectors frequently found that prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds had less positive views of their treatment and conditions. There was no clear strategy for older prisoners.
  • Purposeful activity: In only a third of the adult male prisons inspected was purposeful activity, which includes the provision of education, work and training, judged to be good or reasonably good.
  • Rehabilitation and release planning: Overall, there was some progress but much remained to be done, particularly  around prisoners who presented a potentially high risk of harm to the public being released without a full risk assessment. Inspectors saw large cohorts of sex offenders in prisons where specialist interventions were not available.
  • Women’s prisons: Overall, inspectors continued to find that outcomes for women held in prison were better than for men.
  • Children’s custody: HMIP inspected four young offender institutions and three secure training centres. Safety assessment had improved in three inspections. Nevertheless, levels of violence remained high and bullying was a constant concern.
  • Immigration detention: Inspection outcomes were good or reasonably good. However, detainees continued to feel unsafe and uncertain because there was too often a lack of clarity as to what the future held for them.
  • Police custody: HMIP, with HMICFRS, jointly wrote to Chief Constables expressing concern about the governance and oversight of the use of force.
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One Response

  1. I don’t know why sentencers go in sending people to prison when they know perfectly well that they do not work at all for the vast majority. There are plenty of other disposals which are much more effective and which can be tailored to meet the convicted person’s needs.
    Sentencers must stop believing that their duty is to punish. It is not. Their duty is to to encourage reform, and when and, if this is is successful, provide the means for rehabilitation. Sentencers are not God.
    Most Judges seem not to know the difference between reform and rehabilitation.
    I just despair at their incompetence.

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