160,000 extra days of imprisonment
A recent (14 December 2015) Howard League for Penal Reform report: Punishment in Prison: The world of prison discipline makes for fascinating reading.
Based on figures provided by Andrew Selous, the Minister for Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing, in an answer to written questions tabled on 26 June 2015, the report looks at the continuing rise of “adjudications” – disciplinary hearings for contraventions of prison rules – which resulted in additional imprisonment of 160,000 days or 438 years in 2014/15.
The main findings
The hearings, which cost between £400,000 and £500,000 a year in total, mainly concern disobedience, disrespect or property offences and a prisoner found guilty at an adjudication can face punishments ranging from loss of canteen to solitary confinement and extra days of imprisonment.
Most adjudications are tried by a prison governor before whom there is no right to legal representation, except in very limited circumstances. Cases that are sufficiently serious to attract the risk of additional days may be referred to a visiting district judge.
Additional days will extend a prisoner’s date of release, but they cannot be imposed beyond the final end date of the sentence. This means that the most challenging prisoners could be released without any period on licence in the community.
The Howard League’s main findings are that:
- The number of adjudications where extra days could be imposed has increased by 47 per cent since 2010.
- The number of extra days imposed on children has almost doubled in two years – from 1,383 in 2012 to 2,683 in 2014 – even though the number of children in prison has almost halved.
- The rise in the number of adjudications has come at a time when prisons across England and Wales are struggling to overcome problems caused by a growing prisoner population, chronic overcrowding and cuts of almost 40 per cent to frontline staffing.
- Violence and self-injury in prisons are at their highest levels in a decade. In addition, there have been eight suspected homicides during 2015 – the highest number in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978.
Variation between prisons
One of the main criticisms of the adjudication system is the way that different prisons appear to have very different attitudes to the way that they are used.
Overall, in the last year 159,497 extra days of imprisonment were ordered for an average prison population of 78,283 (using the official figures provided). This works out as an average of 2.04 days per prisoner place.
HMP Haverigg (a male Category C and D prison with an average population of 636) and HMP Whatton (Category C which holds male sex offenders – 834) had no additional days of imprisonment “awarded”.
HMYOI Rochester (which holds an average of 739 young offenders) handed out 8,048 extra days of imprisonment, an average of 10.9 per prisoner place.
HMP/YOI Isis (which holds an average of 613 young adult and young offenders) imposed 3,629 extra days – an average of 5.9 per prisoner place.
Even when we compare similar institutions, there are considerable disparities:
Leeds and Liverpool prisons are both male locals holding an average of 1,209 and 1,237 prisoners respectively but whereas Leeds ordered just 260 extra days, Liverpool ordered 4,265 days, more than 16 times more.
The Howard League provides a legal service to prisoners and is particularly concerned that adjudication punishments often do not factor in the person’s particular vulnerabilities and may exacerbate the underlying problem that prompted the adjudication in the first place.
The legal team has acted for a number of children, disabled and mentally ill people who have been wrongly adjudicated.
Most commentators agree that the rise in adjudications is linked to the increasing levels of violence reported in most prisons over the last two years by the official prison inspectors.
The number of adjudications is a useful barometer of how well our prison service is functioning and we must hope that Mr Gove’s planned reforms result in a reversal of the recent trend which has seen the number of external adjudications jump 47% over the last four years.