“Riot squads” had to calm tensions in prisons more than four times a week on average last year prompting warnings that the “massive surge” in call-outs proved they had got worse under the coalition.
The National Tactical Response Group (NTRG) dealt with 223 prisoner disturbances in 2014 – nearly double the number of incidents (118) it responded to in 2010, Ministry of Justice figures show.
Use of the NTRG has increased markedly under the coalition, with last year’s figures showing a near 10% increase on 2013, when there were 203 call-outs, and 2012 when there were 129.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the jails of England and Wales are in “full blown crisis” and are more violent than when the coalition came to power, leaving criminals unreformed and more likely to commit crime again.
The Labour frontbencher, who uncovered the figures using a written parliamentary question, also highlighted a 64% rise in prison suicides last year, saying “this is not the rehabilitation revolution we were promised”.
Mr Khan said: “This massive surge in the number of times the riot squad have been called out is proof that this Tory-led Government are leaving prisons in a worse state than they found them.
“Our jails are more violent than they were in 2010, suicides and self-harm are up and prisoners are spending more and more time idling in their cells instead of on training courses or working.
“This is not the rehabilitation revolution we were promised.
“Instead we have a full blown prisons crisis.
“As a result criminals are being released from prison unreformed and free to go on and commit more crimes and inflict more misery on communities.”
Nottingham Prison requested support from the NTRG more than any other jail last year, with 15 call-outs.
The prison was last month rated poor by chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick in three major categories after an unannounced inspection which found “very high” levels of violence among inmates.
Ranby Prison, also in Nottinghamshire, was second on the list with 11 call-outs.
Staff at the jail had to deal with a serious disturbance in July which lasted more than eight hours and led to claims that inmates had started a fire which was quickly controlled.
Meanwhile, the NTRG were called out to Lindholme Prison in South Yorkshire and Hewell Prison in Worcestershire eight times each, and dealt with disturbances at Cardiff Prison seven times.
Prisons Minister Andrew Selous, in his response to Mr Khan, said the NTRG have specialist skills to deal with serious incidents and are also often called out as a “precautionary measure”.
Mr Selous said: “The National Offender Management Service’s National Tactical Response Group (NTRG) is a specialist resource to assist both public and private sector establishments in safely managing and resolving serious incidents in prisons.
“NTRG was called out on 223 occasions in 2014.
“While NTRG staff have the specialist skills required to deal with such incidents they are also frequently called to attend as a precautionary measure with the vast majority of such incidents being dealt with very quickly with minimal disruption to the prison.”
The MoJ has stressed that the NTRG also deals with minor incidents such as prisoners protesting by climbing on to the netting between landings.
Mr Khan clashed with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling over the figures in the Commons, with the Tory Cabinet minister stressing that the number of prisoners gaining qualifications had increased under the coalition.
But Mr Khan described the figures as a disgrace.
During the final justice questions session before the general election, he said of the figures: “This is a disgrace. We have fewer prisons, with fewer staff and not enough work or training for inmates.
“We have record numbers of deaths in custody and prisoner on prisoner and prisoner on staff assaults have surged. We heard a lot in 2010 about a rehabilitation revolution, where did it go wrong?”
Mr Grayling replied: “So let’s tell you what’s actually happening.
“The number of prisoner qualifications is up, the number of hours worked in prisons is up, the size of our prison estate, we will go into this election with 3,000 more adult male prison places than we had in 2010.
“And we have done that whilst bringing down the cost of the prison estate to sort out the mess that was left behind by the last government.
“That is the last government that brought a crisis in our prisons, that led to them having to let offenders out early because they ran out of space in our prisons.
“I’ll take no lessons from them (Labour) about how to run our prisons.”
Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Howard League has been warning for some time that a situation where staff cuts have been made and the prison population continues to put pressure on prisons is a dangerous situation that is leading to many problems.
“There has been a rise in assaults, a rise in suicides, and also a rise in more complicated disturbances where staff trained in how to deal with riots are being called in.
“In one sense it is no surprise, but it underlines the fact that whoever wins the election is going to have to look very seriously at our prison system and how it can be better resourced to do the job it needs to do.
“And that should look at who should be sent to prison in the first place.”