Prison safety crisis: Assaults and self-harm hit new record levels

Violence and self-harm in prisons are “unacceptably high”, the Justice Secretary has admitted, after official figures revealed both have surged again to reach new record highs.

David Gauke acknowledged the latest official safety in custody statistics were “disturbing” after they showed increases across all of the key categories.

In the year to September, there were 33,803 assault incidents, up 20% on the previous 12 months.

Of those, nearly 4,000 were recorded as “serious” – such as those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising.

Assaults on staff also continue to rise, reaching record highs.

They increased by 29% year on year, to 10,085, including 997 which were serious, although the Ministry of Justice said a change in the way these figures are recorded may have contributed to the jump.

There were 52,814 self-harm incidents, a 23% increase, and a new record high, according to the MoJ’s report.

It also revealed there were 325 deaths in prison custody in the 12 months to December 2018, up 10% from the previous year. Of these, four were homicides.

Mr Gauke said: “Violence and self-harm in our prisons is unacceptably high and these figures underline why we are spending an extra £70m to fight the drugs plaguing prisons and boost security, while also training over 4,000 new prison officers in handling the complex offender population.

“Clearly there is a huge amount yet to be done but I am determined to cut the violence so prisons can focus on rehabilitating the offenders who will be back out at some point.

“And while these figures are disturbing, I am optimistic that the measures we have been putting in place will help us to reduce violence and ultimately better protect the public.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon claimed cuts to staff and budgets were “directly to blame for violence spiralling out of control in our prisons”.

He said: “Our prisons have become a danger to officers, inmates and wider society.”