Government cuts have left prisons ‘unsafe and unsanitary’, warn MPs
Government cuts have left prisons “unsafe and unsanitary” with incidents of violence and self-harm at a record high, MPs have warned.
Plans to rehabilitate offenders are being undermined by on-going cuts to the prison service resulting in “squalid” conditions throughout England, according to a new report from MPs.
The cross-party health and social care committee found that overstretched staff, overcrowding and poor facilities had resulted in a “cycle of disadvantage” for prisoners who were being denied basic health needs while incarcerated.
And MPs warned that record rates of violence and self-harm alongside a failure to provide quality food and access to healthcare had contributed to a mortality rate for prisoners which is 50% higher than the general population.
Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston MP said: “A prison sentence is a deprivation of someone’s liberty; not a sentence to poorer health or healthcare. Too many prisons remain unsafe and unsanitary. Violence and self-harm is at a record high, with illegal drugs adding to the problem for both prisoners and staff.”
The report comes two months after the Ministry of Justice was forced to seize control of HMP Birmingham from private contractor G4S amid safety concerns.
The Birmingham prison was taken into special measures after an inspection found that widespread drink and drug use was prevalent at the prisons alongside frequent violent incidents.
Prisons minister Rory Stewart announced in August that he would quit his job if tough new security measures failed to bring down violence and drug use in prisons within a year.
Announcing the new scheme he said: "I believe in the prison service, I am a believer in our prison officers. I believe that this can be turned around and I want you to judge me on those results. And I'll resign if I don't succeed."
But MPs warned the service had failed to learn lessons from the incident, warning that many prisons were still struggling to get to grips with the use of spice – a potent synthetic cannabis – which had led to soaring rates of violence between prisoners and against staff.
The committee have now called on the Government to urgently boost funding to ensure prisons were properly staffed as well as reconsider the £2 per day per prisoner budget for food.
Dr Wollaston added: “Poor living conditions, diet and restricted access to healthcare and activity are compounding a cycle of deprivation and health inequality. We need assurances from Government that it will urgently address the very serious situation in prisons with a whole systems approach underpinned by sufficient funding and attention to the prison and healthcare workforce.”