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Thursday, Nov 26, 2020

Overcrowded prisons 'could run out of space' in next three years

A new report has slammed the ‘staggering’ failure of the Government to improve conditions inside prisons, warning space for new inmates could run out within the next three years.
The report, published on Friday by the Public Accounts Committee responsible for scrutinising public spending, criticised the Government for creating 206 new prison spaces out of the 10,000 it promised to deliver in 2016.

It comes as concerns over squalid conditions and overcrowding inside UK prisons continue to mount.

The report said the Prison and Probation Service had a backlog of maintenance work expected to cost more than £900 million, resulting in 500 prison places being removed annually because of squalid conditions.

The Government launched its Prison Estate Transformation Programme four years ago with the aim of ‘investing in repairs and renovations and reorganising the functions of individual prisons’.

In his 2017-2018 annual report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales said he had observed ‘some of the most disturbing prison conditions we have ever seen’.

The following year in 2018–2019, he repeated his concerns when he reported seeing ‘broken windows, unscreened lavatories in shared cells, vermin and filth should not feature in 21st century jails’.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘The scale of failure, in our prisons and in the disastrous probation reforms, is really quite staggering.’

Overcrowded conditions meant some higher-risk inmates were being detained in low-security jails.

Highlighting the issue of overcrowding, the report said: ‘Almost two-thirds of adult prisons in England and Wales are already crowded, with the top 10 most crowded prisons running at 147% or higher than their intended capacity.

‘A lack of capacity within some types of prison means that many prisoners already live in unnecessarily stringent security conditions while others live in low-security environments relative to their higher risks.

‘Demand for prison places could outstrip supply by 2022-23.’

MPs also criticised the Ministry of Justice for its failure to answer ‘basic questions’ about women’s jails.

‘The apparent disregard for the position of women in prisons is just another indictment of a clearly broken system,’ said the report.

Female inmates account for a small minority of the prison population, around 5%. However, research by the Prison Reform Trust suggest they are ‘easily overlooked in policy, planning, and services’.

Speaking to Metro.co.uk, Sofia Buncy, founder and national coordinator of the Muslim Women in Prison Project, spoke of the disproportionate impact of imprisonment on women.

‘Our project has seen women across the board being imprisoned for petty or poverty related crimes of less than 6 months, for not paying a TV licence or instances of shop lifting which can be done to feed a drug habit,’ she said.

‘Quite often the ripple effects of women going to prison on the wider family, especially children and the impact of maternal separation can be irreversible.’

Ms Buncy emphasised the need to reassess the ‘obsession with punitive punishment’ and to focus on rehabilitation instead.

‘Many women in prison have suffered historic trauma in their lead up to being incarcerated- domestic violence, coercive relationships, addictions and homelessness,’ she added.

‘They need help and support to overcome this and rebuild their lives not to be shut away.

‘Ultimately, this is where the government’s investment needs to be. In grassroots based solutions which are community led and culturally competent.’

Responding to the committee’s findings, a Ministry of Justice spokeperson said: ‘We are investing £2.75 billion to modernise the prison estate and deliver 10,000 new prison places – strengthening security and boosting rehabilitation.

‘We also want to see fewer women go to prison in the first place, which is why we have invested in community services that support vulnerable offenders to turn their lives around and are trialling residential women’s centres as an alternative to custody.’
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