Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said it is “unfortunate” the press only cover bad news about prisons and was forced to deny a crisis in the system after a serves of damning reports – causing one expert to say he is playing with words.
A series of highly critical reports from Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick over the summer has led Labour to accuse Mr Grayling of burying his head in the sand over the “shambolic” prison system.
But the Justice Secretary insisted there are “many” good prisons for every bad one after being quizzed by Labour former prisons minister David Hanson on the situation at Wormwood Scrubs, Glen Parva, and Doncaster prisons.
All three were identified by the chief inspector as either unsafe or in decline this year.During justice questions in the Commons, Mr Grayling told Mr Hanson: “It is unfortunate that the press coverage is always of the bad reports, not for example today when we have an excellent report from Chelmsford, two weeks ago when we had an excellent report from Parc youth offender institutions.
“The Chief Inspector has rightly been looking this year at prisons where there have been challenges in the past.”But it is the case, and you will know if you visit prisons around the estate, there is a lot of very good work being done by our teams, going through a process of change caused by budget pressures, they are doing a first rate job.
“And for every time you get a report questioning performance in one prison, there are many others that are doing a first rate job, as you will know yourself.”
Mr Grayling’s response prompted shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan to claim suicides, self harm, deaths in prison, serious assaults and call-outs for the riot squad are all on the rise.
Mr Khan said one in five prisons in England and Wales are now rated by the Government’s offender management service as “of concern” – more than doubling in a year.
The Labour MP said: “We’ve had four reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons which have been pretty damning into Glen Parva, Doncaster, Isis and Wormwood Scrubs.
“What will it take for you to accept that we are in the midst of a prison crisis?”
Mr Grayling replied: “As always you paint a very partial view of what’s going on in our prisons.
“Our prisons are less overcrowded than they have been at any point since 2001, they are less violent than they were under the last government, there is more work being done in our prisons today than was the case under the previous government, the amount of prisoners going through education is rising.
“There are staff shortages in parts of our prisons system but across the prisons system we have a dedicated staff working hard, doing the right job.
“I take very seriously the issue of suicide in our prisons, we saw a rise in numbers in the year, we saw a fall in numbers across the summer, we may see a rise, we may see a fall in the future. These are difficult to track, we work very hard to tackle what is a real problem.”
But Mr Khan blasted Mr Grayling for failing to manage the prison system.He said: “This is classic head in the sand syndrome.”The Government cannot pretend any longer that there is no crisis in our prisons. Even their own backbenchers say the system is shambolic.”Your priorities, regardless of your budget, must be the security of the public and prison officers, and the welfare of inmates.
“Your department is failing in all three – not my words, but an editorial in The Sun newspaper.
“Bearing in mind you were appointed by the Prime Minister in your current job to appeal to the red tops, what’s gone wrong?”
Mr Grayling replied: “I will think we have a problem in our prisons when I am forced through bad planning to release tens of thousands of prisoners weeks early, to commit crimes they should not have committed as the last government did.
“I know I will have a problem when I have to hire thousands of police cells when we don’t have enough space in our prisons.
“The truth is we have space in our prisons, they are less overcrowded, we are increasing education, they are less violent than they were under the last government.
“We have faced challenges given budget pressures but we are doing a much better job than you did.”
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national prisons newspaper said Mr Grayling was “playing with words” on a subject that deserved the utmost seriousness.
Mr Leech said: “Of course there are good reports and bad reports, nothing is all good or bad.
“But what Grayling refuses to recognise is that the bad reports are not only out numbering the good ones but the bad reports are worse than in the past with prisons failing weekly on the most serious issues of safety and decency.
“Grayling is playing with words on a subject that deserves seriousness and respect.”

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