The last year in prisons

2015: A new Justice Minister, some damning reports and reform of the prison estate

Chris Grayling justice secretary replaced Kenneth Clarke

Grayling to Gove the biggest shake up of 2015. Source: Policy Exchange


The last year in prison news, we bring you for the full run down. The stories that made the headlines and the ones that should have done. Catch up here. 


1) A new law brought a crackdown on the use of mobile phones behind bars. Phone companies are now required to block unauthorised handsets. 

2 ) File on Four investigated the long-term impact of staff shortages and asked, are UK prisons reaching crisis point?

3) Entrepreneurial prisoners battled head to head in a fight for a fresh start. David Cohen wrote in the London Evening Standard  of the Dragons’ Den scheme behind bars.


Crackdown of mobile phones. Source: Matt Kieffer



1) Chief inspector of probation, Paul McDowell, resigned over conflict of interest revelations. His wife is managing director of Sodexo Justice Services, the private justice company that won the largest number of contracts to run probation services in England and Wales.

2) Figures out this month showed that suicides reached a record high. Ministry of Justice figures showed that 84 people killed themselves in custody last year.

3) Drug testing at Bristol prison continually failed to detect “Spice” – a synthetic cannabis. Inmates have been admitted to hospital seven times over the last year as a result of the legal high. Theresa May attempted to bring forward new legislation that will crack down on legal highs in prisons.

nottingham  prison nottingham post

HMP Nottingham. Source: Nottingham Post, Joseph Raynor

4) Nottingham prison was described as “dirty” and “dangerous” in a report released following a surprise inspection. The prison was strongly criticised for poor conditions and high levels of violence.

5) It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the press this month. Campaigners welcomed the announcement that the Scottish government is scrapping controversial plans to build a new women’s prison.



1) Britain’s prisons reached an overcrowding crisis, a report published this month by the Howard League revealed. Leeds was identified as the most overcrowded prison in England and Wales. Originally designed for 669 prisoners, the prison was holding 1,218 at the end of January.

2) Undervalued and underpaid: It was revealed in March that four out of five prison officers will miss out on a pay rise while teachers, doctors and soldiers will all see their salaries increase next year. Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association described the treatment of prison officers as “absolutely shocking”. 

3) “There is sex in prisons. Get over it!” said Frances Crook of the Howard League. A report revealed the extent of both consensual and coercive sex in prisons. The Prison Watch UK live blog has the whole story.


The commission on sex in prison. Source, Emily Keen

4) Frances Crook of the Howard League was blocked from visiting two G4S prisons. A letter from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) cited her “comments about private prisons” as the reason for denying access.

5) Over 100 people marched to Downing street  to hand in a petition with over 10,000 signatories that called for the end of joint enterprise law.



The BBC marked the 25th anniversary of the Strangeways Riots by bringing together the ring leaders of the trouble with the prison guards they rose up against. With unparalleled access and remarkably candid testimonies, this documentary brought a real insight into the conflict.



1) The big story this month, Michael Gove former Chief Whip, was announced as Justice Secretary in the cabinet reshuffle.

“We’ll seek to make sure that prisons are places of rehabilitation as much as incarceration and the capacity for all human beings to be redeemed and to lead better lives is there at the heart of what we do.”


New Justice Secretary Michael Gove

2) Prisons report found Dovegate prison to be overcrowded and understaffed.

Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reformsaid:

“Dovegate is an overcrowded and understaffed private prison that has struggled to tackle serious problems. Levels of violence and self-harm are high, and illicit drugs are easy to obtain. This is an example of the challenges facing the new Secretary of State, who has inherited a system that has significant difficulties.”

Find the full report here.



1) The Ministry of Justice admitted in June that overcrowding had been systematically underestimated for six years in a row.

A statement from the Ministry of Justice apologised for the oversight, saying:

“These incorrect figures have in turn informed public statements from the Ministry of Justice, including statements to Parliament.”

2) Scotland leads the way with a progressive approach to female sentencing. It was announced that a series of smaller prisons and an increased emphasis on community sentencing will replace last year’s axed plans for a super prison.

3)  A damning report found Pentonville prison to be seriously failing. Violence, unsanitary conditions and easy access to drugs were just some of the criticisms found by inspectors.

4) G4S and Serco, private security firms, faced fraud charges for taking millions of pounds from the Ministry of Justice each month, more than a year after their tagging contracts were terminated.



1) The Harris review into the suicides of 18- to 24-year-olds in prison was published this month. The report showed that staff shortages have contributed to a rising number of deaths in prison. The report made 108 recommendations, including that young adults spent eight hours a day outside their cells and said prison should be a last resort for young people.

 2) Prisons in England and Wales are in their worst state for 10 years it was revealed. Violence, self harm and suicides are on the rise found the chief prison’s inspectors annual report.

3) Justice minister Michael Gove overturned Grayling’s limit on book.

4) A record number of women are being imprisoned in the UK for ‘minor’ crimesA report by the Prison Reform Trust found that 80 per cent of female inmates have committed non- violent crimes and could have benefited more from community service.

Wormwood Scrubs in London

Wormwood Scrubs, Source: Wikipedia


1) Wormwood Scrubs was labelled one of the worst prisons in England and Wales. A report published by the National Offender Management Service noted that cells were ‘unfit for dogs.’

2) The number of high-risk prisoners held in special units has doubled over the last decade. A report out this month showed that the units were well run but living conditions need improving.



1) Around 20 protesters staged a demonstration at the site of a new “super-prison” on an industrial estate near Wrexham. They staged a peaceful protest by blocking vehicles going into the construction site. The prison is due to open in 2017 at a cost of £212m and house an estimated 2,100 inmates.

2) Michael Gove unveiled a review into prison education in England and Wales. Gove took the first steps in his plans to introduce an “earned release” scheme for prisoners in England and Wales by appointing Sally Coates – a director of a group of 16 academies and seven independent schools – to carry out a review into the quality and methods of prison teaching. The report is due by spring 2016.



1) An investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) for England and Wales found that a number of private letters between inmates and their lawyers were opened by prison staffin breach of the rules. The PPO said that some letters had been “deliberately” opened on security grounds without the prisoner involved having the opportunity to be present, as the rules require.

scottish flag, julien Ortet

Scottish Flag, Source: Julien Ortet

2) The Scottish prison population is likely to increase following the abolition of early-release legislation. Under a new Bill, no long-term prisoner in Scotland will be eligible for automatic release after two thirds of their sentence.

3) The Government cancelled a £5.9 million contract to provide a training programme for prisons in Saudi Arabia. The decision was a significant victory for the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, whose attempts to cancel the project had been resisted by David Cameron. 



1) A man was caught attempting to smuggle contraband into HMP Wormwood Scrubs using a fishing line over the prison’s wall. Karl Jensen was sentenced for trying to smuggle drugs, alcohol, a knife, a mobile phone as well as a McMuffin, and a Kinder Surprise egg. To read more and watch the CCTV footage, click here.

2) Europe’s largest female prison, HMP Holloway, is earmarked for closure. In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced that the prison – which has been open since 1852 – is set to close to make way for housing on valuable land in North London. Inmates will be moved to Bronzefield women’s prison and former men’s prison of Downview.

Prison inspectors have previously highlighted the Holloway’s location as being a “major strength”allowing women to be held close to their families, but have also admitted that the jail’s size and poor design made it difficult to run.

Mr Gove said:

“This will allow women to be held in an environment that is more appropriate for many of those currently sent to Holloway. Both provide a better setting for children visiting their mothers.”

HMP Holloway, source, Islington Gazette

HMP Holloway, Source Islington Gazette


1) A Second transgender woman was found dead just weeks after the suspected suicide of Vicky Thompson. Joanne Latham was found hanged by a prison officer at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes.. Her death came a week after peers backed reform of the treatment of transgender prisoners 

2) Extra prison officers are to be recruited, it was announced. An extra 540 officers have been drafter in during the past year after the Coalition cut numbers by almost 10,000 over the previous four years.

3) Scottish prisons budget is to be cut by almost £40m as alternatives will get funding boost. Under the draft budget unveiled by Finance Secretary John Swinney, the Scottish Prison Service will see its budget drop from £396.2m to £357.2m in 2016-17.





One Comment on “The last year in prisons”

  1. Ste O'Neale says:

    Why is not the SEDEXO fiasco avoiding mainstream television news. Possibly not as newsworthy as singing the National Anthem.


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