Christmas is almost here, but before we sail through Christmas and into the New Year here are a few facts to mull over. Suicide and murder rate in prisons in England and Wales have reached their highest levels in years according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice. In 2013, there were four alleged homicides – the highest number since 1998 – and 70 apparently self-inflicted deaths, more than at any time since 2008. There were 199 deaths in prisons in England and Wales in total. Depressing reading eh?
Hardly the reality being related by the Daily Mail, who on 17 December had this to say, ‘Prisoners in a new ‘superjail’ will have a choice of Christmas dinners costing taxpayers more than the food given to patients at nearby hospitals, it has emerged. Inmates at the £150million HMP Grampian, in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, will be tucking into chicken Balmoral and chocolate gateau on Christmas Day at a cost of £2.47 per prisoner. Patients in NHS Grampian hospitals have just 89p spent on them for a two-course meal on average – although it does rise to £2.17 on December 25.’
Bristling with indignation yet? Well, rest assured, Christmas isn’t always fun for the imprisoned, “It’s been the first Christmas away from my family…instead of my little brother and sister running in my room waking me up, it will be the guy in my cell just as pissed off as me being stuck inside at Christmas I guess. It’s my first Christmas inside so I don’t really know how things go…”
– Kano (Write To Freedom Writer)
– Caspar Walsh’s Article from ‘The Guardian’
Now for a little bit more truth, more than 230 prison officers are being asked to work in other prisons in the run-up to Christmas as governors across England and Wales face a major staffing crisis. Official documents, drawn up in the autumn, which outline measures to tackle staff shortages in prisons during November and December. Struggling prisons due to receive additional officers under the plans include Elmley, where nine prisoners have died so far this year; High Down, the scene of a major disturbance last year; Feltham; Wormwood Scrubs; Nottingham; and Woodhill, which holds maximum-security prisoners. The plans require 239 officers to be moved to other prisons on detached duty during November and December.
A specific document about staffing on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day indicates that about 56 officers will be asked to work in other prisons on these bank holidays. The document suggests that some officers will be required to work in prisons more than 60 miles away. The move comes after Howard League research revealed that the number of frontline officers in public-sector prisons has been cut by 41 per cent in less than four years. Almost all the prisons asked to provide additional officers in the run-up to Christmas are themselves having to contend with severe staff cuts, coinciding with a deepening prison overcrowding crisis and an alarming rise in the number of self-inflicted deaths in custody.
– Taken from ‘The Howard League For Penal Reform’ Website
Question: will Grayling be home for Christmas enjoying a hassle free roast? Or will he be chained to his desk pondering the difficulties of running the prison service on a rapidly shrinking shoe-string? Whilst we’re at it, how is the Labour party aiming to address the deterioration of conditions within the prison estate if they should gain power?