Assaults double over five years at Northumberland jail

HMP Northumberland
HMP Northumberland

Assaults in HMP Northumberland jail have doubled in five years, with prison reform campaigners declaring the situation around the country a ‘national emergency’.

The rise in attacks on staff and prisoners, revealed in figures from the Ministry of Justice, shows the scale of the task prison officers are facing.

Of the 369 assaults recorded in 2017, 56 were on prison staff. And 91 assaults were defined as serious, a category which includes sexual assaults and those where victims required hospital in-patient treatment.

In 2012, 151 assaults were recorded, meaning a five-year increase of 144%.

HMP Northumberland was formed from Acklington and Castington prisons in 2011.

The numbers also reveal that 776 cases of self-harm were recorded at the Northumberland prison last year, compared to just 205 in 2012.

Across prisons in England and Wales, nearly 30,000 assaults were recorded last year, more than double the number in 2012. Self-harm also increased by 92% over the same five-year period, with nearly 45,000 cases in 2017.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This shameful rise in violence and self-injury is the direct result of policy decisions to allow the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked while starving prisons of resources.

“This is a national emergency, and the government must respond boldly and urgently. Positive steps to reduce the prison population would save lives, protect staff, and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime and despair.”

Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “The levels of violence, suicide and self-harm in our prisons are far too high and we are taking urgent action to address these problems.

“Assaults on our hardworking staff will never be tolerated. We are ensuring prison officers have the tools they need to do the job, rolling out body worn cameras, ‘police-style’ handcuffs and restraints, and trialling PAVA incapacitant spray.”

One self-inflicted death was recorded in Northumberland in 2017, a definition which includes suicides and accidental deaths through self-harm.

An HMP Northumberland spokesperson said: “Prisons are very challenging environments, particularly over the last few years with the impact of new psycho-active substances, high population levels within the prison estate and a rise in violence and self-harm across the prison system.

“At HMP Northumberland, we have implemented a number of measures to address these challenges. These include an increase in staffing levels, the recruitment of a new violence reduction manager, a new violence reduction strategy and a revised and strengthened drug strategy which is already starting to produce results. We are proud of our staff, who do a professional job in difficult circumstances.”

“Security and the safety of our prisoners and staff remains our top priority.”

Data source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/safety-in-custody-quarterly-update-to-december-2017