Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards but had serious problems. A July 18 report from the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales noted, “violence continued to escalate at an unacceptable rate.”
Physical Conditions: The Annual Report 2016-17 of the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales released on July 18 stated, “There have been startling increases in all types of violence,” and that “safety had declined in 15 prisons inspected with just five prisons showing improvement.” In the 12 months to December 2016, assaults on staff rose by 38 percent to 6,844 incidents. Of these, 789 were serious, an increase of 26 percent. In total, throughout the prison system, there were 26,000 assaults, an increase of 27 percent. Of the 29 local prisons and training prisons inspected, 21 were judged to be “poor” or “not sufficiently good” in the area of safety. There were more than 40,161 incidents of self-harm in 2016, an increase of 24 percent from 2015, and in the year up to March 2017, 113 prisoners took their own lives. Between May and August, the number of prisoners in England and Wales unexpectedly rose by 1,200, reaching a total of 86,413. A former head of the prison service, Phil Wheatley, called the system, “woefully short of spare capacity” and said prisons were “in crisis.” The president of the prison governors’ association said the unforeseen surge in numbers had left them with “virtually no head room” at a time when many prisons were already in crisis.
Regarding children and young people, the report notes “there is not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people.”
The Official Annual Report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales for the period 2016-17 released in July stated there were 361 deaths in custody, an increase of 19 percent from the preceding year. Of these deaths, 11 were in “approved premises” (halfway houses), down from 12 in the preceding year; three deaths were in immigration removal facilities, the same as in the previous year. There were 115 self-inflicted deaths, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year, and an increase of nearly 50 percent over the past two years. There were 208 deaths from natural causes; the ombudsperson explained the higher number by the increase in the number of older prisoners. The prison service also noted four deaths as apparent homicides; a further 16 deaths were classified as “other non-natural,” of which nine were drug related.
Two of the four young offender institutions the chief inspector visited were “not sufficiently good in the area of safety.” “Increasing violence” led to reduced time out of cell, meaning that many “served most of their sentence locked up,” according to the report.
UK media, including the BBC, raised concerns about inmates still held under “IPPs”--Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences. Introduced in 2003, IPPs are designed to detain serious offenders, mostly sex offenders, perceived to be a risk to the public. Prisoners can be kept in prison indefinitely as long as the Parole Board believed they still posed a threat. In 2012 IPPs were abolished following a European Court of Human Rights ruling. The abolition, however, was not retrospective, and there remained 3,500 prisoners serving sentences without a release date.
Scottish Prison Service figures showed 28 deaths in prisons in Scotland in 2016, an increase of four over 2015. Of those 28 deaths, the cause of 23 was still to be determined, following the conclusion of a Fatal Accident Inquiries that must take place following any death in custody. Two deaths were suicides and three were from natural causes.
A July 2017 report by the investigative website The Ferret stated that incidents in which people tried to hurt or kill themselves in Scottish prisons had risen by more than one-third in the last four years. Official reports of actual, attempted, and threatened self-harming incidents in 15 Scottish prisons increased to more than 400 a year in the last two years. The figures were released to The Ferret under Freedom of Information legislation. The Scottish Prison Service stated that self-harm figures could be misinterpreted because they included threats as well as actual incidents.
A July 2017 report carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland claimed that the Scottish Prison Service was not equipped to deal with the needs of older prisoners. The report claimed many prisoners over the age of 60 received poor health care and faced isolation, boredom, and loneliness.
In Northern Ireland women did not have a separate facility from juveniles. According to the prisoner ombudsperson for Northern Ireland’s annual report for 2016-17, the ombudsperson began investigations into five deaths (three more than in 2016). Three of the deaths appeared to be suicides, and the cause of the other deaths was unclear.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Every prison, immigration removal center, and some short-term holding facilities at airports have an independent monitoring board. Each board’s members are independent, and their role is to monitor day-to-day life in their local facility and to ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained. Members have unrestricted access to their local prison or immigration detention center at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish, out of sight and hearing of staff, if necessary.
For two weeks beginning on March 30, 2016, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited places of detention in England. The report, published in April, expressed “serious concerns over the lack of safety for inmates and staff” because of “prison violence spiraling out of control, poor regimes, and chronic overcrowding.” Government statistics in April showed 68 percent of prisons hold more inmates than their usable “certified normal accommodation” with 80 prisons out of 117 holding more than 50 percent over the recommended levels.
In August 2016 the Independent Prison Monitoring in Scotland, a voluntary advisory group, marked its first full year of operation. More than 150 volunteers joined the new system, working in 15 teams, one in each prison in Scotland.