Ministry of Justice urged to "get a grip" on prison staffing amid rising violence
Report by MPs on the justice committee warns that prison safety "has deteriorated further and continues to do so"
The Ministry of Justice must “get a grip” on the number of prison officers quitting their jobs amid an escalation in violence and suicides in England’s jails, MPs have said.
The committee urged the government to take action in the face of a continued “deterioration” in prison safety, including a 20% rise in assaults in the six months to December compared to the year before.
In the 12 months to March 2016 there were 100 self-inflicted deaths – up from 79 in the previous year, the committee said.
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It noted that deployments of crack team the National Tactical Response Group – dubbed a ‘riot squad’ in the past – had reached “unprecedented levels” of 30 to 40 times a month.
And it said there were 1,935 fires in adult prisons and young offender establishments in 2015 – a 57% increase on the year before.
Committee chairman Bob Neill said: “The Ministry of Justice hoped that prison safety would stabilise. In reality it has deteriorated further and continues to do so.
“This is a matter of great concern and improvement is urgently needed. We will examine the details of the government’s ambitious penal reform agenda in due course. But this cannot wait.
“It is imperative that further attention is paid to bringing prisons back under firmer control, reversing recent trends of escalating violence, self-harm and disorder.
“Without such action, the implementation of these wider reforms will be undermined.”
The committee noted figures showing there were 7,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010, when the prison population was 2,500 lower than it is now.
“There is a serious and deep-rooted issue of staff retention by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS),” Mr Neill said.
“The factors underlying this issue are we suspect not fully understood by NOMS and are clearly not being adequately addressed.
“It is vital that they get a grip of this urgently to prevent further waste of resources on large scale recruitment drives.”
Responding to the report, prisons minister Andrew Selous said the report "demonstrates the very serious challenges facing the prison" and shows "how badly" jails are in need of reform.
He said in a statement: "We must do better at reducing violence and self-inflicted deaths, and preventing drugs entering prison. We must do more to help prisoners with mental health problems. We have to ensure prisoners can be rehabilitated so they are no longer a danger to others."
Selous added: "We have secured £1.3bn to modernise the prison estate and we have responded to staffing pressures with a national net increase of 530 officers, since January last year.
"These reforms will ensure prisons are places of decency and improve public safety by reducing reoffending."
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, welcomed the report, adding there was "no public service in such disarray as the prisons"
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