Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: Bromley Briefings Summer 2019

24th June 2019

The Prison Reform Trust has released its latest edition the Bromley Briefings prison fact-file. Published twice a year, the Bromley Briefings is an important resource for capturing trends in UK prisons with a view to providing an evidence-led basis for policy and practice change. The document gives a comprehensive overview of the state of UK prisons drawing on government data sources and concentrating on the areas of: sentencing and the use of custody; safety in prisons; prison service resources and staffing; black, Asian, and minority ethnic people in prison; older people in prison; life and indeterminate sentences; learning difficulties among prisoners; foreign nationals; women in UK prisons; mental health in prison; and rehabilitation and resettlement.

In this edition the statistics highlight the growing numbers of people in custody across the UK, the social and economic effects of a rising prison population, the impact of cuts to staffing and prison resources, and the concerns for safety in UK prisons for both prisoners and prison staff.

Key facts from the briefing:

  • Prisons in England, Wales, and Scotland demonstrate the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe.
  • Although there has been in slight decline in the last two years, the UK’s prison population has risen by 69% in the last 30 years.
  • The use of long term sentences is increasing; over two and a half times as many people received a sentence of 10 years or more in 2018 in comparison with figures for 2006. 
  • 13% of sentenced prisoners in the UK are serving indeterminate sentences, not knowing if or when they will be released. This figure is the highest in Europe.
  • There is a rise in the number of older people in prison. One in six (16%) people in UK prisons are aged 50 or over. This figure is projected to further increase as people in custody serve longer sentences. 
  • Over a quarter (27%) of the prison population are from a minority ethnic group. The Briefings also highlight that BAME individuals are more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court. 
  • A third of people in custody (34%) reported having a learning disability or difficulty. HM Inspectorate of Prisons have highlighted the need for more to be done to adapt prison regimes to meet the needs of people in custody with learning disabilities. 
  • Major concerns are highlighted regarding safety in prisons, with dramatic increases in deaths in custody, assaults, sexual assaults, assaults on staff, and record levels of self-harm among prisoners. 
  • The budget of HM Prisons and Probation Service has undergone significant budget cuts of approximately 20% between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015; increases in resource allocations that have since been implemented have been outpaced by inflation.

This edition of the Briefing again highlights the rising prison population and the impact of budget cuts on the functioning of the prison service. Of greatest concern is the statistics related to the rapid deterioration of safety in prisons in recent years, with drastic increases in deaths in custody and self-harm among prisoners. Additionally, an investigation conducted by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman cited in the Briefings reported that nearly one in five people diagnosed with a mental health issue did not receive care from a mental health professional while in prison. The Briefings state that "[p]risoners and staff are less safe than they have been at any point since records began."

The UK government has committed to providing additional resources to modernise the prison estate. There are plans for an additional 10,000 prison places to be built by 2020. Targets for the recruitment of new prison staff have been reached but there are issues with staff retention. 54% of prison officers who left the service in 2018 had been in the role for less than two years. The high turnover rate for staff has meant that staff experience across the prison estate has declined as a result.

You can read the Summer 2019 edition of the Bromley Briefings fact-file, in full, here.

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