New official statistics in England and Wales show that prison deaths have risen by 10 percent, assaults by 20 percent, and self-harm by 23 percent, according to an article by RightsInfo.org.
Deborah Coles of Inquest, an organization that focuses on state-related deaths, de- scribes this spike as a “national scandal.” “The government [has] long been on notice about the perilous state of our prisons, and yet historically high numbers of deaths are allowed to continue,” she said. “How many more deaths will it take before the government and prison service face up to their duties of care for the health, safety and welfare of prisoners?”
According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 325 deaths in prison custody in England and Wales from 2017 to 2018. This figure jumped by 10 percent from the previous year. Of those deaths, 92 were self-inflicted.
There has also been a 29 percent increase of assaults on staff by prisoners, with 907 of the assaults being classified as serious, according to the article.
The trade union representing correctional workers, secure psychiatric workers, and the prison, Prison Officers’ Association (POA), acknowledged the numbers of assaults and deaths. However, Glyn Travis of POA, at- tributes the rise in numbers to new psychoactive substances (NPS) coupled with violence and debt amongst the prison population.
In response to the rising assaults and sharp decline of safety standards within prisons, the POA instructed its officers to stage a protest by walking off the job. They cited the assaults on prison staff as the major reason. On average, there are 85 assaults against prison staff each day. Moreover, since 2010, there has been a 197 percent increase of such attacks, ac- cording to the article.
Violence and self-harm in the prisons is “unacceptably high,” David Gauke, Minister of Justice, told the Guardian. “These figures underline why we are spending an extra 70 million pounds to fight the drugs plaguing prisons and boost security, while also training more than 4,000 new prison officers in handling the complex offender population.”
There are new measures being put in place by prison officials to reduce the number of deaths and violent incidents. But Mark Day of the Prison Reform Trust thinks that not all of these measures—particularly issuing pepper spray to staff—will result in success. “Plans to roll out PAVA spray to all prison staff on the closed adult male estate risks making a volatile situation even worse,” he said.
Prison Minister Rory Stewart insists that the newly introduced measures will improve security in jails. “I will quit if I haven’t succeeded in 12 months in reducing the level of drugs and violence in those prisons,” he vowed.