Prison staff are 'at risk'

Steve Douglas
Steve Douglas
Share this article

The safety of borough jail staff could be “at risk” as rising numbers of criminals threaten to overload the institution, it was claimed today.

Latest Ministry of Justice figures show that Hindley Prison has capacity for 540 inmates but in July it was running at 95 per cent capacity, with room for just 27 more prisoners.

Campaigners say the unchecked rise of the prison population is responsible for the huge increase in assaults on staff and other inmates.

Steve Douglas, Wigan branch chairman of the Prison Officers Association, has previously said the lack of resources coupled with the “incorrect categorisation of criminals” (in other words those who are a danger and not showing willingness to rehabiliate are being classed as category C instead of B) is putting inmates and staff at risk.

The Prison Service measures its own capacity based on the number of inmates it can support in a “good decent standard of accommodation”.

It also measures “operational capacity” by the maximum number of prisoners the service says it can handle whilst also maintaining control and security.

Annual figures, published by the Prison Service in July, show the true extent of the problem in Hindley.

From April 2017 to March 2018, 11 per cent of prisoners in HMP Hindley were in “overcrowded cells”, 59 inmates on average. Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, said: “Overcrowding isn’t simply a case of being forced to share a confined space for up to 23 hours a day where you must eat, sleep and go to the toilet.

“It directly undermines all the basics of a decent prison system, including work, safety and rehabilitation.

“No government has succeeded in building its way out of overcrowding. So we need a fundamental rethink about who we send to prison and for how long.” Across the country, assaults have more than doubled in prisons over the last five years, and cases of self-harm have increased by 93 per cent. In

Hindley, the rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rocketed from 455.4 per 1,000 inmates in 2016/17 to 507.5 per cent in 2017/18.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Cramming more people into prisons than they were designed to hold is a recipe for violence, drug abuse and mental distress. Bold action is needed to reduce the number of people behind bars and ease the pressure on other prisons.”

A Prison Service spokesman has said that all prisons in England and Wales are within their operational capacity which means they are “safe for inmates”.

The representative added: “Nonetheless, reducing crowding is a central aim of our modernisation of the prison estate. That is why we have committed to delivering up to 10,000 new prison places across the country, and only last month announced that two new prisons would be built at Wellingborough and Glen Parva.”