Fresh prison woe for ministers as assaults, self-harm and accidental releases hit record highs
Assaults in English and Welsh prisons soared to their highest level on record in the year to March, official figures revealed today.
Meanwhile, the number of prisoners released in error hit an all-time high of 71 - as did self-harm incidents in jail.
The numbers paint a grim picture for the beleagured prison system in England and Wales - which has faced prisoner riots and disgruntled staff in recent months.
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael accused ministers of "turning prisons into powder kegs".
But new Justice Secretary David Lidington insisted safety and security in prisons was his “top priority”.
According to official Ministry of Justice figures, there were 26,643 prison assaults in the 12 months to March, up 2,630 (16%) on the previous year. That includes a 21% rise in serious assaults.
Some 7,159 assaults were on staff members - up 32% on the year before and triple the number in 2013 - with quarterly assaults on staff reaching a record high after soaring by 5%.
The number of prisoners accidentally released was up 7 in the year to March to hit the record high of 71.
The number of escapes went up by two to 15 and there was a 65% increase in so-called ‘temporary release failures’ - which includes prisoners failing to return to prison on time.
And there were 40,414 incidents of self-harm in the year to March - up 17% on the year before and a new record high.
It comes shortly after MoJ figures revealed more people killed themselves in prison last year than ever before.
Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael fumed: "Scandalous underfunding under this Conservative government has turned our prisons into powder kegs.
"What should be places of rehabilitation are now dangerous hotbeds of violence, self-harm and drug abuse.
"The Government has lost control of our prisons and urgently needs to get a grip."
Mr Lidington said: “Since becoming Justice Secretary last month, my top priority has been on improving safety and security in our prisons.
“These figures reinforce how crucial it is that we make progress as quickly as possible.”
He added: “I have seen first-hand the challenges our dedicated and hardworking prison staff face.
“Boosting the frontline is critical to achieving safety and the number of prison officers we are recruiting is rising, with the number of new prison officers joining the service at its highest level since 2010.”
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