Justice secretary denies prison crisis: what do the stats say?

Assaults, suicides and prison populations are all on the rise but Chris Grayling says it's all under control

A guard stands behind a locked gate at Pentonville prison
(Image credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling insists there is "not a crisis in our prisons", despite the fact that assaults, suicides and overcrowding have risen in the last year. In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he admitted that the government was facing "pressures" but he repeated "there is not a crisis". Here's what the latest prison statistics have to say:

Violence in prisons

The number of assaults by prisoners in England and Wales rose from 14,083 in 2012-13 to 15,033 in 2013-14, according to official figures from the Ministry of Justice. Serious assaults – which can include anything from sexual assault, stabbing and scalding to causing bone fracture, blindness or internal injuries – rose by 23 per cent. Grayling says prison violence is "at a lower level today than it was five years ago". This might be true, but his own department's figures show that serious assaults are on the rise, from 1,443 in 2008-09 to 1,699 in 2013-14. In the 12 months to end of March 2014, there were 3,363 assaults on prison staff – up 12 per cent on the previous year and amounting to around ten assaults a day. Today, an unannounced inspection of the Isis Young Offenders Institution in Thamesmead, London, reported high levels of fights and assaults. The report said that, of these, "more than we usually see involved weapons".

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The latest government statistics, published last Friday, show there were 85,834 people in prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales – an increase of 1,489 compared to the same time last year. The prison service's own measure of how many prisoners can be held in decent and safe accommodation is 76,241, meaning that an additional 9,593 men and women are currently in the system, says the Howard League for Penal Reform. In July, the prison reform charity reported that prison officer numbers had been cut by 30 per cent over three years, from 27,650 officer grade staff in September 2010 to 19,325 in September 2013. Grayling has admitted that there have been "challenges" of an unexpected increase to the population, but insisted: "We're meeting those challenges, we're recruiting those staff but I'm absolutely clear – there is not a crisis in our prisons."


In 2013-14, 88 prisoners took their own lives, up from 52 in 2012-13. Last week Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, blamed the rise on overcrowding and staff shortages and told The Independent it was "not credible" for the Government to deny the link. The number of incidents of self-harm also increased by more than 750 in a year to 23,478. A report from Nigel Newcomen, the prisons and probation ombudsman, published last Wednesday, found that suicide risk assessments and monitoring were too often poor and the potential impact of bullying on the risk of self-harm or suicide was "too rarely considered". Grayling admits there have been "far too many" suicides among inmates, but maintained the government was adapting to such issues.

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