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What rehabilitation revolution?
Nevertheless, he is forthright in saying that he shares the conclusion of the Justice Committee in attributing the main cause of this deterioration in the quality of our prisons to the financial cuts and, particularly the large reduction in the numbers of prison staff.

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Hard Times

Chief Inspectors of Prisons generally write an annual report. This year’s report, published on 14 July, 2015, is more significant than most. It is the final report from Nick Hardwick, the much respected Chief Inspector whose five years in the role almost perfectly matched the timespan of the recent coalition government (he was appointed in July 2010).

The report makes particularly grim reading and contains so much information that my summary of it will spread over a number of blog posts over the next few Tuesdays.

This first post focuses on Mr Hardwick’s own reflections on what has happened to prisons in England and Wales over the first period of austerity.


In the beginning

Nick Hardwick looks back to his optimism on first taking up post. He noted that although prison inspections were inconsistent, there was a general trend of improvement and some hope that the “rehabilitation revolution” would drive positive change, with working prisons and a greater focus on reducing reoffending.

However, he doesn’t pull his punches when looking at what has been a steady pattern of deteriorating performance. On the first page of his introduction, he includes the chart below which shows that the outcomes inspectors assessed in 2014/15 all fell sharply and were the worst for 10 years.

prison inspection trends

Hardwick notes that women’s prisons and establishments holding children have not declined in the same way as adult men’s prisons. The deterioration in men’s prisons is shocking to see. In his second figure, Hardwick compares how the same prison fared in terms of consecutive healthy prison assessments (the gap between inspections range between 1 – 4 years). You can clearly see the decline in safety, purposeful activity and resettlement:

Chief Inspector healthy prison outcomes


Prisons have become increasingly dangerous places

Perhaps the most chilling section of the whole report is where Hardwick turns his attention to the increasing violence in prisons:

[alert-note]”You are more likely to die in prison than five years ago. More prisoners were murdered, killed themselves, self harmed and were victims of assaults than five years ago.”[/alert-note]

In a, frankly terrifying section, Hardwick describes the incidence of violence in an average week in prisons in England and Wales:

  • Four to five prisoners died.
  • One or two of those deaths was self-inflicted – most using a ligature fixed to a bed or window.
  • There were almost 500 self-harm incidents.
  • There were over 300 assaults and more than 40 of them were serious. A blunt instrument or blade were the most common weapons.
  • There were about 70 assaults on staff and nine of them were serious.

On average there was a homicide once every three months.

Hardwick notes that one of the important contributory factors to this increase in violence is the growth in availability of synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice and Black Mamba.



Hardwick says that several prisons could have performed better and should have done more to address the decline in safety. Nevertheless, he is forthright in saying that he shares the conclusion of the Justice Committee in attributing the main cause of this deterioration in the quality of our prisons to the financial cuts (NOMS has lost 24% of its budget in the last five years) and, particularly the large reduction in the numbers of prison staff:

[alert-warning]‘We believe that the key explanatory factor for the obvious deterioration in standards over the last year is that a significant number of prisons have been operating at staffing levels below what is necessary to maintain reasonable, safe and rehabilitative regimes.’[/alert-warning]

Faced with further cuts, it would be a brave person who predicted a more positive report from the new Chief Inspector next year.


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3 Responses

  1. Hi Russell

    Great blog, as ever. Focussing on on the 24% cuts to the NOMs budget, as this is presumably the trigger for much of the deterioration charted in Nick Hardwicks report, it would be interesting to know how proportionate this was in relation to prisons

    Best regards and excellent blog. I enjoy reading them but often don’t get the opportunity to reputation, lurching as I am from pillar to post far to often these days


  2. Hardwick has been an impressive Chief Inspector. His final report is a reminder how vital is, especially in today’s climate, that the post goes to someone with balanced, informed and utterly independent judgement, but passionately concerned that our prisons should be decent, positive places. It is becoming increasingly clear how wrong it is for the appointment to be made by the very minister whose service is to be inspected. Grayling’s meddling with the appointment process was disgraceful; an early test for Gove is whether he understands that a complaisant Chief Inspector might make this day or week easier for government, but in longer term would do immense damage.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Julian. I agree that everyone is waiting to see whether Michael Gove will back his fine words with action and the appointment of a new Chief Inspector will be an interesting litmus test.

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