HM Inspectorate of Prisons Annual Report 2015-16: prisons unacceptably violent and dangerous, warns Chief Inspector

Prisons have not improved and in some key areas, have become even worse, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published his first annual report.

National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data showed that:

  • during 2015 there were over 20,000 assaults in prisons, an increase of 27% over the previous year;
  • serious assaults have risen by 31%, up to nearly 3,000;
  • the number of apparent homicides between April 2015 and March 2016 rose from four to six;
  • there were over 32,000 incidents of self-harm in 2015, an increase of 25% on the previous calendar year; and
  • the tragic total of 100 self-inflicted deaths between April 2015 and March 2016 marks a 27% increase.

Peter Clarke said:

“Despite the sterling efforts of many who work in the Prison Service at all levels, there is a simple and unpalatable truth about far too many of our prisons. They have become unacceptably violent and dangerous places.

“A large part of this violence is linked to the harm caused by new psychoactive substances (NPS) which are having a dramatic and destabilising effect in many of our prisons.

“The effects of these drugs can be unpredictable and extreme. Their use can be linked to attacks on other prisoners and staff, self-inflicted deaths, serious illness and life-changing self-harm.”

On a national level, while various aspects of the problem are being addressed through criminalising possession of NPS and the better use of testing and detention technologies, there is as yet no overall national strategy for dealing with the problem. NPS-fuelled instability has restricted the ability of staff to get prisoners safely to and from education, training and other activities. The implications of this for a reform programme based on enhancing the role of education in rehabilitation and resettlement are obvious.

A high number of people in various forms of detention are contending with mental health issues which require professional assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Often those who cannot be accommodated on a wing, either for their own safety or that of others, find themselves housed in the segregation unit.

Peter Clarke said:

“No-one could sensibly argue that a segregation unit is a therapeutic environment or a suitable place to hold people with mental health issues. These three issues of violence, drugs and mental health will, on many occasions, find themselves intertwined. They are, in turn, compounded by the perennial problems of overcrowding, poor physical environments in ageing prisons and inadequate staffing.”

Other findings include:

  • outcomes for prisoners in the two women’s prisons inspected in 2015-16 were impressive, although HMP Holloway continued to struggle in delivering work, training and education and has now closed;
  • four of the five young offender institutions were not sufficiently safe, which had a knock-on effect and meant training and education opportunities suffered;
  • there has been a slight upturn in the inspectorate’s assessments of adult prisons and young offender institutions from a low level, but it is too soon to say whether these improvements will be maintained;
  • early in 2016, allegations emerged in a BBC Panorama programme of mistreatment and abuse of children at Medway secure training centre and a team from HMI Prisons and Ofsted were immediately deployed to ensure that children there were being properly safeguarded;
  • while inspecting immigration detention facilities in Dover during summer 2015, inspectors found another detention facility, Longport Freight Shed, was being used for the short-term detention of migrants. The conditions were totally unacceptable, even for fairly short periods of detention, and the facility has since been closed; and
  • a further immigration inspection that gave cause for great concern was at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre.


From April 2015 to March 2016, the Inspectorate published 75 individual inspection reports on prisons, police custody suites, immigration removal centres and other custodial establishments. Thematic reports were published on substance misuse in adult prisons, the restraint of children in custody, court custody, the Close Supervision Centre system, failures of Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), and prison communications. Joint thematic reports were published on children in custody and the needs of victims in the criminal justice system.

The inspectorate continued to develop its role in coordinating the National Preventive Mechanism, the UK response to its international obligations arising from the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. The inspectorate has been encouraged by Parliamentary committees and others to increase its impact, and to highlight good practice.

Peter Clarke said:

“Despite the troubles that afflict prisons at the moment, there are large numbers of dedicated, courageous, skilful and experienced staff who care deeply about the safety of those in custody, who want to improve the conditions of detention, and are focused on the rehabilitation of prisoners. Thanks to their efforts there are countless examples of good practice to be found in all places of detention. All too often this good practice fails to gain the recognition it deserves. I have asked inspectors to pay particular attention to good practice and to make specific mention of it in reports.”


– ENDS –


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 and custodial institutions 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.