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Overcrowding within prisons
The Prison Population week ending 13 November 2015 stood at 85,993. The Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) is the prison service’s own measure of how many prisoners can be held in decent and safe accommodation. The current CNA level is 77,532 meaning that 8,461 men and women are being held above this level. HMPS Leeds, amongst others was ranked one of the highest prisons currently over the CNA. Figures for the week ending 13 November 2015 shows that HMPS Leeds was a startling 497 prisoners above the CNA.
On 9 November 2015 the Ministry of Justice announced it would be building nine new prisons to help with the problem of overcrowding. The pressure on prison staff, who find themselves working in over populated conditions, may be eased as a result. Furthermore, this new announcement may also assist in the ratio of staff to prisoner which in turn may enable more focus and help to be given to prisoners individually who find themselves being without the support they need. Although some are not entirely sure that this will solve all the problems that prisoners face within the establishment it is definitely a positive start.
Commenting on the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons annual report 2014-15, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, stated, “It is no mystery that violence, self-harm and suicide rise when you overcrowd prisons, reduce staff by almost one third and cut time out of cell and purposeful activity. Solutions lie in good strong leadership from the new Secretary of State through to prison governors, a commitment to treat people in prison with humanity and respect and a determination to make prison an effective place of last resort.”
July 2015 saw the publishing of the Harris Review which was titled, “changing prisons, saving lives”. The review described the prison environment as “grim” and suggested that the current restricted regimes within the prison establishment did not allow for the delivery of purposeful core day activities. This resulted in prisoners spending long periods of time alone within their cells which could have the potential impact of conjuring up feelings of distress. Lord Toby Harris stated the consequence of spending prolonged hours alone inside a cell with nothing to do other than stare at potential ligature attachment points was a recipe for tragedy.
This is a concern highlighted by many and furthermore, inquests into deaths in custody repeatedly bring to light the fact that it is systemic failings within prisons which contribute to the deaths of those prisoners who are accommodated within them. The lack of meaningful activity and engagement is a contributor in exacerbating mental health issues and self harming behaviour. In the first six months of 2015 there have been 43 self-inflicted deaths, which when investigated, will surely bring to the surface further systemic failings in the care and treatment provided to those prisoners. It is yet to be seen whether the commitment to changing prison culture starting with the creation of a new prison “mission statement” focusing on rehabilitation and the promise to ease overcrowding will have a correlation with the decrease of the number of self- inflicted deaths within prison.
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