The Liberal Democrats have reported that there were almost 8,000 assaults on prison staff in the year leading up to June 2023, averaging nearly one assault per hour. They argue that this alarming statistic highlights the repercussions of overcrowded prisons and insufficient staffing levels. Official data reveals 7,908 assaults in prisons across England and Wales during the 12-month period, representing a 6% increase from the previous year, with 748 classified as serious incidents.
The party’s analysis indicates a nearly twofold rise in recorded assaults per 1,000 prisoners, escalating from 49 incidents in the year ending June 2023 to 96 in the most recent figures. The statistics also reveal substantial spikes in violence at specific prisons over the same period. For instance, HMP Wakefield, a high-security facility, saw a significant increase from seven assaults on staff in 2015 to 61 in the first half of 2023. HMP New Hall, a prison for women and young offenders, recorded nine assaults in 2015 and 42 in the first half of 2023. Similarly, HMP Bedford, a category B prison, experienced a rise from 22 to 82 assaults.
The overall prison population has been steadily increasing and currently stands at about 88,000, with projections suggesting it could exceed 100,000 in the coming years. This rise is attributed in part to longer sentences and a notable increase in the number of individuals on remand due to court system delays. By mid-2023, one in five prisoners were on remand, compared to one in nine in 2019.
The shortage of prison staff is also a significant issue. A notable incident at HMP Wandsworth in September revealed that, on the day a prisoner escaped, 80 prison officers had not reported for duty, leaving only 60% of posts filled. Earlier this year, a German court refused to extradite a man accused of drug trafficking to the UK, citing concerns about prison conditions.
Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dems’ spokesperson for home affairs, expressed concern over the unsafe and overcrowded conditions in prisons, emphasizing the need for the justice secretary to address the crisis. In response, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson stated that actions taken to enhance safety, such as increasing frontline staff and investing £100 million in security, have led to a nearly one-fifth reduction in assaults on staff compared to pre-pandemic levels. The spokesperson also highlighted the doubling of the maximum penalty for assaulting prison officers to two years behind bars.