Safety in Custody and Violence in Prisons

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 9th May 2016.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 3:39 pm, 9th May 2016

Before I move on to the substance of the question, I would like to update the House on events that occurred at Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs over the weekend. On the morning of Friday 6 May, prison officers refused to enter the prison, citing health and safety grounds. Later that day, an agreement was reached between the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Officers Association. All officers have returned to work, and the prison is running a normal regime. The National Offender Management Service and the Prison Officers Association are jointly committed to resolving any outstanding health and safety concerns at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. On Sunday 8 May, two members of staff at Wormwood Scrubs were assaulted and taken to hospital for treatment. We do not tolerate any violence against our hard-working officers. The alleged perpetrator now faces a police investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

Moving on to the wider question, I take safety in prisons very seriously. Reducing the harm that prisoners may cause to themselves or to others is the Government’s top priority in prisons. The most recent statistics on safety in custody show that levels of self-inflicted death, self-harm and violence in prison are too high. The figures demonstrate the very serious challenges facing the prison service. There is no single, simple solution to the increase in deaths and violence in prisons. Those trends have been seen across the prison estate, in both public and private prisons and in prisons both praised and criticised by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons.

We have already taken a number of steps to address the problems. We have recruited 2,830 prison officers since January 2015; that is a net increase of 530. We are trialling the use of body-worn cameras in prisons. We are strengthening the case management of individuals who risk harming others. We have introduced tough new laws under which those who smuggle packages, including packages containing new psychoactive substances, over prison walls will face up to two years in prison. We have reviewed the case management process for prisoners who are assessed as being at risk of harm to themselves, and we are implementing the recommendations.

It is, however, clear that we must do more. We need to reduce violence and prevent drugs from entering prison. We must do better at helping prisoners with mental health problems. We must ensure that prisoners can be rehabilitated so that they are no longer a danger to others. That is why the Government are committed to fundamental reform of our prisons. We have secured £1.3 billion to modernise the prison estate, and we will give greater autonomy to governors so that they are truly in charge. I look forward to setting out our plans in greater detail shortly.

The problems are deep-seated, and there are no easy answers. However, I assure the House that the Government will not waver in their determination to reform our prisons, so that they become places of decency, hope and rehabilitation.