Prisons in parliament – 14 November 2016Posted: November 14, 2016
Prison violence increases – but will magistrates’ powers?
Prisons in Parliament brings you up-to-date on the last week of politics and prisons. What’s been said? And by whom? Get it all here.
What action the government is taking to address soaring levels of prison violence was under scrutiny in the House of Lords, following a question from Lord Patel (Labour) of Bradford.
Lord Keen of Elie (Conservative), The Advocate-General for Scotland, sought to assure the House that the government is investing in 2,500 more prison officers across the prison estate, as was set out in the recent White Paper. He promised that 400 additional prison officers would be brought into the “most challenging prisons” by March next year.
But Lord Patel was dissatisfied with the response on staffing, pressing Lord Keen on psychoactive substances being a “major contributory factor” to the rise in violence.
“The Government’s response is to tackle the supply of drugs and improve mandatory drug testing. It is a laudable aim, but does the Minister agree that drug testing can contribute to reducing drug misuse only when it is used as part of a comprehensive drug strategy that also addresses demand?” – Lord Patel.
Recent riots at prisons in Bedford and Lewes have highlighted the issue of violence behind bars.
- The latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice for prisons in England & Wales paint a grim figure.
- There were about 65 assaults per day in the 12 months to the end of June 2016. That makes for a total of almost 24,000 – a 34 per cent increase.
- Assaults in men’s prisons have risen 69 per cent in only three years to a record high of nearly 23,000. Assaults in women’s prisons have risen 25 per cent in one year.
Magistrates’ sentencing powers could go up
Baroness Seccombe (Conservative) asked whether sentencing powers for magistrates would be increased.
The Justice Select Committee’s recently urged the government to consider increasing their powers. that such an increase should occur.
It recommended that magistrates should be able to sentence people to 12 months in prison. Currently magistrates can sentence people for up to six months for a single offence or 12 in total.
Baroness Seccombe, herself a magistrate, said the Magistrates’ Association would welcome this move. “It would like more cases to be resolved locally and more speedily, at the same time saving millions of pounds, which at this time would be very helpful… Magistrates today are highly trained.”
However prison reform campaigners fear that more people will end up being sentenced to prison if the powers are increased.
Magistrates are local people who volunteer their services. They are not required to possess any formal legal qualifications – although they are given training.