HM Inspectorate of Prisons Annual Report 2014/15 - prisons in decline across all areas, warns Chief Inspector

Outcomes in prisons reported on by the inspectorate declined across all areas in 2014-15 and were the worst for ten years, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published his last annual report before his term of office ends in January next year. However, the small number of women’s prisons and establishments holding children had not declined in the same way as adult men’s prisons, he added. All of the prisons inspectors were most concerned about in 2013-14 which had been inspected in 2014-15 had made significant improvements thanks to effective leadership, very hard work by staff and some investment in the environment.

Safety had deteriorated across the prison estate, affecting adult men’s prisons of all types and prisons in both the public and private sectors. Some long-term trends are a factor in the decline. More prisoners are serving long sentences for serious offences. The rapid increase in the availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS), such as ‘Spice’ or ‘Black Mamba’, has had a severe impact and has led to debt and associated violence. Local prisons in particular have struggled to cope with the introduction of young adults, who are over-represented in violent incidents and the use of force by staff. However, these factors do not sufficiently explain the overall decline in safety. Staff shortages, overcrowding and the wider policy changes described in the report have had a significant impact on prison safety.

National Offender Management Service (NOMS) data showed that:

  • in 2014-15, 239 men and women died in prison, 29% higher than in 2010-11 and 6% higher than last year;
  • there was a welcome fall in the number of apparent self-inflicted deaths, from 88 in the year to March 2014 to 76 in the year to March 2015, but it was 40% higher than five years ago;
  • the number of self-harm incidents involving male prisoners has risen steadily over the past five years and the 18,995 incidents in the year ending December 2014 was almost a third higher than the year to December 2010
  • there were 10% more assault incidents in 2014 than in 2013 alone; and
  • assaults on staff have risen sharply: there were 3,637 in 2014, an increase of 28% on 2010.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Our own assessments about safety were consistent with data that the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) itself produced. You were more likely to die in prison than five years ago. More prisoners were murdered, killed themselves, self-harmed and were victims of assaults than five years ago. There were more serious assaults and the number of assaults and serious assaults against staff also rose.”

There was more that individual prisons could have done to address the decline in safety outcomes. Reception and early days processes were inconsistent. In some cases prisons had not responded effectively enough to Prisons and Probation Ombudsman recommendations following a death in custody, or quickly enough to the threat of NPS.

Overcrowding remained a significant problem although population pressures had reduced slightly overall. Despite the pressure of numbers, respect outcomes – daily living conditions, the relationships between staff and prisoners and health care – had only declined slightly from previous years. In surveys, 76% of prisoners said that staff treated them with respect, which was an impressive figure.

The number of older prisoners continued to rise sharply, with over-60s reaching 3,786, a rise of 10% on the previous year; and prisons had made uneven preparation for the introduction of the Care Act 2014 which would give local authorities new responsibility for meeting the social care needs of prisoners.

Work, training, education and other activity outcomes were dismal and only good or reasonably good in 25% of the adult male prisons inspected, which is of profound concern, and the worst outcomes since 2005-06. One in five prisoners said they spent less than two hours a day out of their cells during the week. Resettlement outcomes also slumped to their lowest level since the inspectorate began to record them and in only 45% of men’s prisons were outcomes reasonably good or good.

Other findings include:

  • women’s prisons were more positive and other than in purposeful activity, outcomes were consistently good or reasonably good;
  • the population of children in custody continued to fall in 2014-15, to 1,144;
  • levels of violence in young offender institutions (YOIs) holding boys continued to be high;
  • most of the secure training centres inspected with Ofsted provided good outcomes for the more vulnerable children they held;
  • across the immigration estate, in general, safety, the environment and relationships with staff were reasonable, but welfare services were insufficient to prepare detainees for their return or release;
  • inspectors found examples of prolonged immigration detention without exceptional and clearly evidenced reasons to justify it;
  • detainees told inspectors that their greatest concern was the uncertainty about their detention and anxiety about their immigration case. These concerns were exacerbated for detainees who were vulnerable for some reason – and too often these vulnerabilities were not recognised or addressed;
  • overseas escorts removing large groups of detainees on charter flights were generally professional;
  • police custody has improved over the past five years, although too many vulnerable people continued to be held in police custody, including children and those in mental health crisis;
  • court custody contained some of the worst conditions inspectors have seen, with fragmented and ineffective leadership; and
  • military detention facilities were among the best inspectors found.

From April 2014 to March 2015, the Inspectorate published 94 individual inspection reports on prisons, police custody suites, immigration removal centres and other custodial establishments. Thematic reports were published, jointly with HM Inspectorate of Probation, on resettlement provision for adult offenders, girls in the criminal justice system, and offenders with learning disabilities. The inspectorate continued to develop its role in coordinating the UK response to its international obligations arising from the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and began work on a major joint project looking at isolation and practices that amount to solitary confinement. A number of positive reports about the work of the inspectorate itself were published shortly before the election and in 2015-16 the inspectorate will respond to the recommendations in those reports to further develop and strengthen its work.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Three broad themes emerge from this report and review – not just of the last year but of the five years since I was appointed. First, the increased vulnerability of those held across the range of establishments we inspect and the challenge establishments have in meeting these individuals’ needs. Too often locking someone up out of sight provides a short-term solution, but fails to provide the long-term answers more effective multi-agency community solutions would provide. Second, there is a real need to match the demand for custodial services to the resources available. Detention is one of the public services where demand can be managed. Alternatives to the use of custody may be unpalatable but so, no doubt, are the other public expenditure choices that government has to make. Third, the case for the independent inspection of custody remains as strong as ever and that independence needs to be preserved. I hope this report will assist Ministers and Parliament with the decisions they now have to make.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Read the report.
2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
3. HM Inspectorate of Prisons regularly inspects prisons, young offender institutions, immigration removal centres, immigration short-term holding facilities and overseas escorts and court custody. We inspect police custody suites and Border Force customs custody jointly with HMI Constabulary and secure training centres jointly with Ofsted. By invitation, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons also carries out inspections of military detention facilities, prisons in Northern Ireland, prisons on the Isle of Man and Channel Islands, and some other overseas prisons in jurisdictions with links to the UK.
4. The UK’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) was established under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The NPM consists of 20 existing bodies throughout the UK, which are independent and have the right regularly to inspect all places of detention. It is coordinated by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and reports to the UN treaty body.
5. NOMS safer custody statistics can be found here:
6. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.