10 key reports on the state of UK prisons

From drug addiction to women’s vulnurability, the reality of British prisons.

Source: Usuf Islam/Flickr

Source: Usuf Islam/Flickr


Below are ten important reports for anyone who wants to know what is happening in British prisons.


1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons annual report

The Chief Inspector of Prisons issues a report at the end of each year summarising the major developments and issues in the British prisons.

Last year’s report emphasised three major problems that the UK prisons are currently facing. One of them is the financial pressures on prisons, with some of them being privatised and some being shut down.

“There are plans to replace older prisons with cheaper places,” the report noted.

The report also said that overcrowding was a serious issue in many prisons, making rehabilitation programmes and other services and facilities to be insufficient for the size of the population.

This in its turn influences safety issues, with safety outcomes being worst in adult male local prisons, the report concluded.

The Inspectorate also prepares reports into functioning of certain prisons. There are usually several reports a month and you can read them here.


2. Self-inflicted deaths of prisoners annual report

Published in March this years by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), the report investigated the reasons of the sharp rise in the number of suicides in British prisons.

It is a summary and analysis of a number of case investigated by the PPO’ Fatal Incidents Team. The team looks into all deaths in custody including natural cause deaths, self-inflicted deaths, homicides and accidental deaths.

This year’s report emphasised the “rising toll of despair”.

“I remain shocked by the evident level of despair and the degree of need among the prisoners who took their own lives,” ombudsman Nigel Newcomen said in the report.

Last year, there were self-inflicted deaths at 53 different prisons, 56% more than the previous year. The total number of suicides was 89. 


3. The Safety of Prisoners Held by the Northern Ireland Prison Service

This report issued last year said that issues of self-harm, suicide, bullying and drug misuse in the Northern Ireland prisons must be improved.

“We believe this work should be undertaken as a matter of urgency and completed by July 2015, as the quantity and availability of drugs within the prisons is concerning and has significant links to bullying and safer custody,” said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.

The report called on the prison service and health service to work collaboratively to ensure safety of prisoners.


4. Scotland’s Choice Report of The Scottish Prisons Commission

The 2008 report looked at the purpose and impact of imprisonment in Scotland. It recommended a significant reduction in the prison population by avoiding use of short sentences and introducing community-based sanctions for most minor offenders.

The report concluded: “High prison populations do not reduce crime. They are more likely to create pressures that drive reoffending than to reduce it.”

The report made 23 recommendations and had a profound impact on thinking about punishment in Scotland, with the government organising a reform programme of increasing non-custodial sentences to cut reoffending. But there are still more than 8,000 prisoners in Scotland, which is the same as the number of prisoners in the year when the report was issued.


5. Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile

The report produced by the Prison Reform Trust in 2014 is an overview of facts and figures about “the deteriorating state of our prisons and the poor state of people in them.”

It looked at a wide variety of issues in British prisons from parenting to reoffending. But one issue which it investigated was particularly interesting, since it has rarely been discussed. It is the issue of older people in prisons.

The report said that between 2002 and 2014 there was an increase of 146% in the number of prisoners aged 60 and over. On 31 March 2014 there were 102 people in prison aged 80 and over. Five people in prison were 90 or older.

One prisoner wrote to the Prison Reform Trust:

“I am 65 years old and work full time … Really I am one of the lucky ones. Some of the prisoners are disabled 70, 80 years old, locked behind their doors, no TVs, some have no radio, banged up 5.30 evening until 10, 11 am next day with no hot water, not opening for hot water for a drink. Not opening for them to go for medication, resulting in one man being taken to hospital. Another has self harmed.”

6. Access to Justice Denied: Young Adults in Prison

This report for the Howard League for Penal Reform has found that young adults in prison are “an abandoned generation.”

The report said that young offenders had restricted access to justice, since there were gaps in the provision of legal services for young adults in prison. It also emphasised that young prisoners needed education about their rights to challenge failures of statutory services or bring complaints about their treatment in prison.

There were just over 1,000 young people under 18 in custody, according to the Ministry of Justice statistics.


7. Lord Patel’s report

This 2010 report focuses on drug treatment for people in prison. Drug addiction is one of the major problems of British prisons today. The number of illegal drug seizures in prisons in England and Wales is on the rise, the Guardian reported earlier this year.

The report said that the system of drug treatment for prisoners should be reformed and noted that improvements in treatment of mental health problems and alcohol issues would help successful drug treatment programmes.  


8. Corston report

This 2007 report was prepared by the Baroness Corston following the death of six women at Styal prison. It is a review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system.

The report emphasised that it was wrong to put women in a traditional male prison and laid down 43 recommendations aimed at improving services for women offenders and women at risk of offending.

Even though the report was commissioned by the Home Secretary, most of the recommendations have not been realised, with the government saying it would cost too much.


9. Commission on English Prisons Today

This report from 2009 is an overview of the UK penal system, analysing its purposes and limits, as well as possible ways of its reforming. It was commissioned by the Howard League for Penal Reform and produced by a number of criminologists, lawyers and journalists.

First issued back in 1922, the report is widely seen as landmark. One of the major advantages of the 2009 report is that it compares British prisons with those in a number of European and US prisons, trying to find the most reasonable and innovative form of penal system for the modern society.

The experts of the report concluded that a reduction in the use of prison will allow to reinvest resources into local communities and the use of solutions outside of criminal justice tramlines.


10. Equal Access, Equal Care

The report by the NHS England is due to be published later this month and will lay down principles for reforms in providing health care for prisoners with learning disabilities. Currently medical services for UK prisoners vary from prison to prison. The report is designed to clarify vague moments in legislation and current practices, as well as to call on the government to allow prisoners have the same medical support as people outside prison.

In a recent interview with Prison Watch UK, Ann Norman of the Royal College of Nursing who helped to produce the report, said:

“This document is about to be signed off and approved. It will be sent to prison health centres, so that practitioners can look and see how they can support prisoners in need and fulfil their duties.”

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