Criminal justice institutions – UK Government assessment
There have been some positive policy developments, such as the Female Offender Strategy, reforms to probation and the availability of liaison and diversion services. However, overcrowding, poor conditions, use of force, solitary confinement, violence and self-harm in prisons are still commonplace. Imprisonment rates are high and ethnic minority people are over-represented. Mental health and maternity services continue to be inadequate, and the coronavirus pandemic has presented additional challenges to the delivery of safe and decent prison regimes.
- In the year to March 2019, the average prison population in England and Wales was 83,013. According to the latest available data, England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe.
- By July 2020, only 266 prisoners (and no children) were temporarily released under new COVID-19 provisions to reduce the prison population in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
- As at May 2020, almost half of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded and many had poor living conditions.
- Ethnic minority people are significantly over-represented in the prison population, particularly in the youth estate.
- The UK Government has committed to implementing recommendations from the Lammy Review, and some progress has been reported – however, significant further action is needed before race disproportionality can be reduced or eliminated, including systemic changes to policy and practice, both within the justice system and beyond.
- A significant number of prisoners, including those aged between 18 and 21 years old, spend more than 22 hours a day in their cells, amounting to solitary confinement contrary to human rights standards.
- Self-harm in custody (prisons and immigration removal centres) reached a record high in the 12 months to December 2019 – women in these settings are much more likely to self-harm than men.
- The number of recorded self-inflicted deaths in custody remains high, with 90 recorded in the year to September 2019 in England and Wales.
- There were 23,113 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and 9,995 assaults on staff in the 12 months to December 2019 in England and Wales.
- The prisons inspectorate has identified high levels of force used on prisoners – in 2019, use of force increased in 28 adult prisons and governance was often weak. There is no national data on restraint in adult prisons.
- Fears have been expressed for the mental health of prisoners (including pregnant women) and there are concerns about the a failure to identify and meet the needs of particular groups such as women, ethnic minority people and trans people.
- The UK Government’s decision to introduce PAVA spray to adult male closed prisons in the UK without the agreed safeguards, could risk breaching prisoners’ human rights.
- Despite changes to laws and guidance, women prisoners face similar issues to those highlighted in the Corston report in 2007 – it is not yet clear how effective the Female Offender Strategy will be, or how it will be evaluated.
- There are still no women’s prisons in Wales, so Welsh women are detained in England.
- Between March and July 2020, 23 people in prison have died from Covid-19 and 540 have been infected with the virus.
- Restrictions imposed to manage the risks of Covid-19 infection have resulted in lack of family contact, increased time in cell and reduced independent scrutiny, with implications for a number of human rights standards.
Read more about the UK Government’s actions on criminal justice institutions.