Urgent action needed on prisons’ crisis

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons’ report on HMP Birmingham has just been released. The inspection report found that violence and drug-taking were rife at HMP Birmingham, with many staff working in fear and unable to maintain control.

Responding to this, Lib Dem Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey has called for urgent action to reduce overcrowding in prisons and recruit more prison officers.

Ministers need to get a grip on the crisis in our prisons. The violence and chaos isn’t confined to HMP Birmingham – we keep hearing similar reports from across the country.

Prisons are stuffed full of people on short-term sentences, which cost millions and don’t work to prevent crime. Overwhelmed staff are simply unable to cope, leading to riots, widespread drug use and violence against staff.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. The Government must urgently recruit more prison officers and bring forward legislation to end pointless short-term sentences and reduce overcrowding.

Our goal must be to transform prisons into places of rehabilitation and recovery, to cut re-offending and make our communities safer.

In August, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons issued an “urgent notification” letter alerting the Government to the appalling conditions in HMP Birmingham. He has also issued urgent notifications this year in respect of three other prisons: Nottingham, Exeter and Bedford.

Although the Government has reduced HMP Birmingham’s population since stepping in, the latest official figures show that it was still over-capacity by more than 200 prisoners at the end of October. The latest prison population figures show that, as of 26th October, HMP Birmingham had a population of 1,003 with in-use certified normal accommodation of 796.

Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats under a Freedom of Information request show that, as of 31st March, 182 prisoners at HMP Birmingham were serving short-term sentences of less than 12 months. The President of the Prison Governors Association, Andrew Albutt, said last year that such sentences “don’t work and are pointless”, and the Justice Secretary has admitted that they are ineffective at reducing re-offending.

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  • Sue Sutherland 4th Dec '18 - 10:53am

    The state of our prisons is a disgrace and exemplifies how far our society has moved into a callous state. There are no votes in improving conditions so people are left to rot. It isn’t just the prison officers who are at risk, prisoners too experience a punishment through violence or the threat of violence, that is far worse than they deserve.
    Lib Dems see society as a community and those who have hurt that community may need to be removed from it for a period of time, hopefully emerging as people who have the strength not to offend again. This is far removed from the actual experience of prison. For most of us that prison experience is unlikely to happen, but imagine receiving a prison sentence for dangerous driving for example. It would be the conditions in prison that would be the most terrifying punishment, not the actual prison sentence. I’m glad Ed Davey is taking this up.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Dec '18 - 1:28am

    The usual from Ed Davey these days, very feeble in no mention of punishment and release of people for non violent offences. It is a cop out to bang on about short sentences, they are not the issue, we need no lectures when he does not favour mandatory sentences on carrying of acid.

    We should set free all, tax evaders, petty fraudsters, tv licence evaders, before we decide we have no room in prison for those who deserve it, ie many given non prison now.

    It is not difficult to have balance, be tough and tender. Shame that moderation is so disliked, it is actually, in this case radical and never heard.

  • Peter Martin 7th Dec '18 - 8:59am

    “Prisons are stuffed full of people on short-term sentences, which cost millions and don’t work to prevent crime.”

    At the same time we are told that crops are rotting in the fields because we don’t have anyone to harvest them. So why not allow low category prisoners the option of working outside their jails during the week? They would be allowed to keep a percentage of their wages and the rest would go towards the cost of their upkeep. Why not use one problem to solve another one?

    The Swedes are having to close jails for lack of numbers. If we have a system which obviously isn’t working then we need to learn from one that is.


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