Self-harm incidents at Hindley prison have risen in recent years, amid warnings that our prisons have been asked “to do too much with too little for too long”.
Prison reform charity the Howard League has called for a reduction in the number of prisons in order to ease immense pressure on the system, following years of decline in the prison workforce.
At Hindley, staff numbers have fallen in recent years while violent incidents have risen, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice and the HM Prison and Probation Service.
In June, 299 staff members were employed at the prison, down from 316 in 2018 and 370 six years ago.
Of these, 192 were prison officers, compared to 205 in 2018, and 240 in 2013..
At the same time, the number of self harm incidents increased from 119 in 2013 to 349 in 2018.
In the first three months of 2019 alone, there were 144 incidents reported at the prison.
It was a similar picture across England and Wales, with the number of incidents more than doubling between 2013 and 2018, from 23,230 to 55,598.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The rising levels of violence and self-injury behind bars are symptoms of the immense strain on a prison system that has been asked to do too much with too little for too long.
“Cramming more and more people into overcrowded jails has been a recipe for disaster, and the loss of experienced staff has added to the pressure.”
While figures are not available at a local level, national figures reveal that 40% of prison officers in June had less than three years’ service.
More than 4,000 prison officers – 15% of the workforce – had been in their posts for less than one year.
In 2014, there were only 129 officers with less than a year’s experience. The prison workforce saw a rapid increase in the prison workforce after 2017, following a significant drop in 2014.
There were 33,926 employees working at public sector prisons across the two countries in June this year, up from 31,493 in 2017 but still below the 37,100 seen five years ago.
Ms Crook continued: “More officers have been recruited, and a larger, refreshed, workforce ought to have a positive impact in the long run, but any recovery will be fragile and short-lived unless we see action to address prison numbers. Ultimately, reducing the number of people in prison is the key to protecting staff, saving lives and making the public safer.”
A spokeswoman for the Prison Service said: “We are working hard to reduce levels of self-harm – giving each prisoner support from a dedicated officer, providing mental health training to more than 24,000 staff, and giving the Samaritans £1.5 million to support those most at risk.
“The number of less experienced staff is simply down to our recruitment of thousands of extra prison officers in recent years, all of whom are supported by more than 10,000 frontline staff who each have over a decade of experience.”
She added that the Government was working hard to retain staff with pay increases and additional training, while equipping officers with tools such as pepper spray and body cameras.