Nick Hardwick, HMI Chief Inspector of Prisons, published his annual report yesterday and it doesn't make for happy reading as reported here in the Guardian:-
Rise in prison suicides in England and Wales blamed on staff shortages
Shortages of experienced staff and resources combined with a growing prison population are to blame for the rapid rise in suicides, according to the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales. Nick Hardwick’s annual report warns that there has been a “significant and concerning increase in deaths in custody”, reversing improvements made over the past decade.
Self-inflicted deaths among inmates rose by 69% in 2013-14 – a total of 88 lives lost and the highest level for 10 years. That increase was ”the most unacceptable” aspect of the mutiple pressures on the prison service, he said. The Ministry of Justice, however, immediately denied that staffing cuts or “crowding levels” are responsible for the surge in suicides.
As many as 22 prisons are currently on restricted regimes where normal activities and resettlement programmes are suspended in order to focus on allowing prisoners out to have exercise.
Asked whether the service had been fortunate to avoid serious riots, Hardwick said: “Managers nationally and locally have been very effective at spinning a lot of plates. ... One of the reasons why things have not been as bad as we might expect has been down to the work on the ground.”
Another indicator of the problems, he explained, was the “worrying” growth of so-called “incidents at height” where prisoners climb up on to netting between wings to stage protests. There were about 700 in the year ending March 2013 but 1,300 the following year. “It’s individuals refusing to comply. We don’t want it to go from individuals to groups. Overall staff have been effective in keeping a lid on that.” Improvements have been made, Hardwick acknowledged, but the reaction to some problems had been too slow.
The report criticised “gaps in the identification of risks for new prisoners at a time when they were most vulnerable.” Too many inmates “in crisis” were found to be “segregated and living in poor conditions”, the document added.
Hardwick said: “Increases in self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and violence cannot be attributed to a single cause. They reflect some deep-seated trends and affect prisons in both the public and private sector.
“In my view, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the conjunction of resource, population and policy pressures … was a very significant factor for the rapid deterioration in safety.”
The total prison population rose from 84,083 in April 2013 to 85,252 in March 2014 – which was 99% of the system’s operational capacity. More cell places have become available since then but, Hardwick warned, there will be further finanical pressures.
“We have to be careful about managing the pressures and resources we make available over the next year. It’s not my job to say how many people should be in prison but we need to match the population to the resources available.” A further sign of difficulties inside jails was the 14% increase in assaults involving adult male prisoners. “Some prisons were insufficiently focused on tackling violence,” the report said.
Drugs were also a problem. “The increased availability in prisons of new psychoactive substances, often known as legal highs, was a source of debt and associated bullying and a threat to health,” the report said. Normal testing methods cannot detect legal highs that rapidly change their chemical formulation. Prices inside are said to be 10 times higher than on the street. If taken by those already on medication, Hardwick warned, they can be very dangerous.
There was also a “significant loss of more experienced staff” due to old prisons closing and planned staff savings. There were savings last year of £84m in public sector prison running costs and a further £88m as a result of closing older prisons. Where old prisons closed experienced staff were lost while new prisons opening in other areas could not immediately attract experienced officers.
Asked about complaints that prison staff who raised concerns with their MPs were being disciplined, Hardwick said he had always been able to talk to officers openly but added: “People need to be free to raise concerns.”Here's former Prison Governor John Podmore writing about the situation, also in the Guardian:-
Prison suicides: the disgrace that Chris Grayling doesn’t get
There is no crisis in the prison system, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, repeatedly asserts – even as the prison and probation ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, says he is “troubled” and “appalled” by the rising rates of prison suicide; the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, expresses concern about prisoners spending “too long in their cells with nothing constructive to do”; and Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform calls plans for a super-jail for children a “recipe for child abuse”.
Their concerns are all based on official figures or findings, but the secretary of state continues to insist that there is no crisis. Yet the evidence that all is far from well is underlined by this weekend’s Guardian investigation revealing that as many as six people a month are taking their own lives in prison.
The factors contributing to this disgrace are not mysterious if you understand that properly run prisons rely on good relationships and cooperation between staff and prisoners. Unfortunately the justice secretary does not appear to get that. He has presided over the worst deterioration in relationships between staff and prisoners since we started building jails. There have always been and continue to be common themes underpinning suicide in jails: remand prisoners are more vulnerable and we know segregation makes more people vulnerable.
Going back to 2009, the Bradley report into the treatment of mentally ill prisoners came up with the blindingly obvious conclusion that we should divert those with a mental health problem away from prison. The Corston report more than seven years ago came up with equally good recommendations about keeping vulnerable women away from custody. Problems and solutions are identified but, beyond a few pilot programmes, actions are scarce.
Prisons don’t run on reports and recommendations, they run on relationships and cooperation. Get it right and rehabilitation and safer communities follow. Good relationships inside prison can help to prevent suicides. They are hard to measure and are eschewed as liberal concepts that don’t fit the “tough on crime” agenda. They are difficult in a prison setting and rely on a culture of discussion and conversation based on good leadership. The process takes time, continuity of management, training and support from above.
We ask of prison staff more than almost any other public servants. The job has its dangers and the environment is complex. We expect a lot for negligible entry requirements and six weeks’ generic training, which is among the worst in the world. And in those six weeks they get almost no mental health awareness training. In Norway it is two years to degree level. Such limited training makes it difficult for officers to engage positively with well-adjusted prisoners, let alone difficult, damaged, chaotic and disordered individuals.The deteriorating situation is frequently referred to by commentators to this blog, such as these from yesterday:-
I worry about sending young men into prison. I recently recalled a young man with learning difficulties, who prior to committing à further offence had been to hospital 2 days running with psychosis. He was supposed to be reassessed by community health team. I requested he be admitted to health care to be reassessed, that never happened. Since then I have struggled to get any info from the prison. He will go to Crown Court and the likelihood is that whoever writes the report will not even bother to liaise with me.
Not just young men - I'm working with a client in his 30s on a community order, who was recently imprisoned for 4 weeks for possession of a craft knife - though they let his order carry on. He was sent to our B Cat local and has told me that the wing was run by the prisoners, with the two - and sometimes one or none - staff more or less shut in their office for safety. On his first day he was set on by eight prisoners and carried to a cell at the end of the landing, where he had a spoon inserted in his rectum to see if he was carrying any drugs. He heard the same thing happening to other new arrivals later in his stay. He is hardly a newcomer to prison life, but this has traumatised him - he said conditions have never been so bad.
Yes I have been told about prisoners running the wings and spoons being inserted to search for drugs. Wonder if it is the same prison or if it is happening many places. What can we do? Where do we report this?
Before the recent cutbacks in prison, I made a great effort to work with and support men with learning difficulties because back then they could be left to rot, now they definitely will be left to rot. Currently I spend all my time tied to the bloody computer writing parole reports and addendum after addendum or preparing for what seems an exponential growth in Oral Hearings. I can now only fire fight which means seeing those I'm told to see, or those I must see to write reports. The quiet ones who are often the ones with learning difficulties get pushed to the back. It's dangerous in prison for staff and inmates alike but its bloody tragic for the most needy.