Chief Inspector says prisons in England & Wales at worst in a decade

Nick Hardwick says prisons are in bad state due to budget cuts and staff shortages 

HM Inspectorate of Prisons annual report 2015


Prisons in England and Wales are in their “worst state in 10 years” according to the latest annual report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick.

Deaths, assaults and self-harm have all increased significantly resulting in “safety” levels that are at their lowest in 10 years (see Figure 1 below). At the same time, “purposeful activity” that is supposed to contribute to rehabilitation and “resettlement” is at its lowest level in a decade.


Outcomes in prisons in England & Wales over 10 years

Source: HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England & Wales, 2015 annual report


Prisons now versus five years ago  

Mr Hardwick compared the situation in prisons now with when he started his job in July 2010.

  • Assaults: Since 2010 assault incidents have risen by 13 per cent and the increase is accelerating. There were 10 per cent more assault incidents in 2014 than in 2013 alone. The number of serious assaults has also risen – by 55 per cent over the last five years and by 35 per cent in the last year.
  • Assaults on staff: there were 3,637 in 2014, an increase of 28 per cent on 2010 and 11 per cent on 2013. Some of the increase in violence was attributed to the availability of new psychoactive substances such as Spice and Black Mamba, which “has had a severe impact and has led to debt and associated violence”.
  • Deaths: 239 men and women died in prison in 2014-15. That is six per cent higher than last year and almost one-third higher than in 2010-11.
  • Suicides: self-inflicted deaths fell from 88 in the year to March 2014 to 76 in the year to March 2015, but that was still 40 per cent higher than five years ago.
  • Self-harm:  The number of self-harm incidents involving male prisoners in 2014 was almost a third higher than in 2010.
  • Staff shortages: There were 29 per cent fewer full-time staff in post in public sector prisons in December 2014 than there were in March 2010 (reduced from 45,080 to 32,1006).
  • Resettlement: Resettlement outcomes slumped to their lowest level since HMIP first began to record them. In only 45 per cent of men’s prisons were outcomes reasonably good or good.



But there was some good news 

Mr Hardwick said that women’s prisons were a much better story than men’s in 2014–15.

Continuing the trend from the previous year, the Chief Inspector found that women’s prisons were at least reasonably good in safety, respect and resettlement, and many were good.

The picture was more mixed for purposeful activity and the most vulnerable female prisoners, but outcomes in women’s prisons continued to improve and were consistently stronger than in male prisons.

“After some years where we have argued that women’s prisons too thoughtlessly duplicated what happened in men’s, it is now the case that men’s prisons could learn much from how women’s prisons have improved,” said Mr Hardwick in his latest report. 

The population of children in custody continued to fall in 2014–15. The average number of children in custody has almost halved from 2010-11 to 2014–15.

The population has fallen by 13 per cent since 2013–14 alone. But levels of violence in young offender institutions (YOIs) holding boys continued to be high.


Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England & Wales, who has been highly critical of the government.

Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England & Wales, who has been highly critical of the government.


An average week in a prison in England & Wales

The reports findings were neatly summed up in a rather grim graphic showing an average week in the penal system:

  • Four to five prisoners died.
  • One or two of those deaths was self-inflicted – most using a ligature fixed to a bed or window.
  • There were almost 500 self-harm incidents.
  • There were over 300 assaults and more than 40 of them were serious. A blunt instrument or blade were the most common weapons.
  • There were about 70 assaults on staff and nine of them were serious.

On average there was a homicide once every three months.


More to come on HMIP’s latest annual report 

We will be doing more soon on women, children, detention centres and other topics covered in the report. Please let us know what you would like to read more about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s