A recent report represents a shocking assessment of the current state of the prison system in the UK.
Published following an independent review into HMP Swaleside, it evidences lack of progress and shocking conditions in the prison. The 2022 review followed two earlier reviews in 2018 and 2021 that made certain recommendations whose implementation was “not sufficiently good.’ The report referred to the staffing situation as a ‘crisis’ and concluded that the lack of meaningful progress in staffing is impacting upon the progression and rehabilitation of prisoners.
Furthermore, the report expresses the difficulties that UK prisons have been facing in managing the behaviour of inmates. In 2021, it was found that serious violence against staff was at a high level and only set to increase significantly. Members of staff felt unsafe due to an increasing number of assaults. As for prisoners, more than a third stated they felt unsafe. The report also found that there was little incentive to encourage any form of positive behaviour. The report referred to the data on violence as ‘extremely worrying’, and found that only 44% of respondents’ prison experiences decreased their likelihood of reoffending.
Prisoners’ time out of their cell was limited to roughly three and a half hours for unemployed prisoners, and five for the employed. During the visit for the review, only one prisoner (out of the 1000 in the prison) was found to be engaging in the vocational workshops. It was concluded that staff scarcity has created an absence of meaningful regimes and purposeful activity in prisons relating to work or education schemes.
Lastly, the report also found that there are significant safeguarding difficulties caused by the staffing ‘crisis’. Prisoner self-harm had doubled since the previous inspection and rose drastically in the 12 months prior to the recent inspection. There were significant gaps in staff support available to prisoners. Documentation of these issues in prisons has slightly improved, yet risk assessment of prisoners is still poor.
Overall, the report found that only 15% of targets for improvement had experienced good progress, 31% of targets had insufficient progress, and 23% of aims experienced no progress at all. The ‘regime [is] buckling under acute staffing shortages’, HM Inspectorate of Prisons commented.
The report made some necessary recommendations. It advised the introduction of effective measures to reduce violence and improve safety, along with reducing self-harm and improving care for at-risk prisoners. The report advised prison leaders to urgently increase prisoners’ ‘unlocked’ time, and provide education, skills and work activities. Regarding staffing, the report found the issue to be beyond leaders’ influence, yet a key priority needing intervention from HM Prison and Probation Service.
For the full report click here.