Violence in UK Prisons – The Facts
Shocking video footage, filmed on an illegal mobile at HMP Rochester, demonstrates two men involved in a bare-knuckle brawl – in a seemingly pre-arranged situation. The fight, which was later posted to YouTube, showed one man receiving a number of blows to the face, then later washing the blood off in a sink. Comments such as “that’s how we sort things out in prison” were also clearly audible.
Although the fight didn’t cause any serious injury, the video demonstrates clearly that violence is still an issue inside UK prisons.
The latest report from the HM inspectorate of prisons has said “Progress had stalled at HMP Rochester” see the full report using the link at the bottom of this post
Violence in Prisons – Escalating Problem
Prison violence is continually featured in the UK press. From gang violence and bullying in HMP Feltham to horrific attacks at HMP Frankland, we’re frequently exposed to stories of escalating violence in UK prisons. However, in spite of the government’s claim that they’ll address the situation, little seems to be changing.
What factors are causing levels of violence to rise behind bars… and what is the solution?
What is Causing the Problem?
- Overcrowding. The UK’s prisons are dangerously overcrowded. 2015 research discovered that 75% of male prisons were holding more inmates than they were designed to accommodate – with 19,000 inmates being forced to double-up with other inmates, and 800 having to treble-up, in cells that often measure no more than 10ft by 6ft. Unsurprisingly, this creates higher levels of tension – causing more violence.
- Drugs. Many UK prisons have drug issues – and not just illegal drugs. In fact, Nick Hardwich (chief inspector of prisons) highlighted the effects of legal highs in prison, claiming that they were further fuelling violence. In addition to taking the drugs, inmates are often unable to repay suppliers, which frequently results in ‘punishments’ – further violent activity.
- Squalid conditions. Although some prisons have good living conditions, there are others, such as HMP Pentonville, that have been heavily criticised for their appalling condition. Inmates are expected to live in dirty cells, often without basic comforts, including a pillow and cutlery. This only exacerbates feelings of frustration and anger amongst inmates – another catalyst for violent behaviour.
- Lack of rehabilitation. Budget cuts mean that there is now even less provision for rehabilitation – something which is costing prisons dearly. Increasing numbers of inmates are being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day – which again, fuels violence.
- Reduced prison staff. Despite the ever-growing prison population, there are now less prison staff on hand to cope with violent situations. Between March 2010 and December 2014, numbers of prison staff dropped by 29% – thanks to budget cuts.
What is the Situation?
Here’s a quick lowdown of the current levels of violence in UK prisons. (Source: Safety in Custody Statistics – Ministry of Justice quarterly update).
In just one week, prisons can typically expect:
- Over 300 assaults
- 40 serious assaults
- 70 assaults on staff
- 9 serious attacks on staff
- 4-5 prisoner deaths
- 500 incidences of self-harm
These are alarming figures. Regrettably, they only look set to get worse, if the situation isn’t addressed immediately. As Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, highlights; it’s “no mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one-third, cut time out of cell and purposeful activity.”