A host of “shocking” findings provided a fresh indication of the scale of the task facing the Government in its efforts to reform jails.
The data covering England and Wales, released by the Ministry of Justice, showed there were:
:: A total of 100 apparent self-inflicted deaths in the year to March – the highest level for more than a decade;
:: Six apparent homicides, up from four in the same period in 2015, and the largest number for a year to March since current records started in 2000;
:: 32,313 reported incidents of self-harm last year – a jump of 25% on 2014;
:: More than 20,000 assaults in the 12 months to December last year, a rise of 27% year-on-year, including 2,813 which were “serious”;
:: Nearly 5,000 attacks on staff – a jump of more than a third compared to 2014.
Campaigners and Labour seized on the figures as illustrating a system in crisis, while the Government said they underlined the need for reform.
Shadow Prisons Minister Jo Stevens said: “These shocking figures have blown the lid off Michael Gove’s claims that he is the man to deal with the worsening Tory prison crisis. Now we know that the Government’s own statistics reveal that rates of self-harm, homicides and serious assaults on staff have surged.
“This paints a picture of a system in total meltdown and on the verge of collapse. How can it be right that hardworking prison staff are expected to put up with such a toxic workplace environment?”
Mark Leech editor The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said it was only to be expected.
“Between 2010 and 2015 we lost 28% of full time prison staff, that’s 12,530 prison officers, in that time the prison population rose by 3,500 prisoners and we saw a £900m cut in prison service budgets.
“Add to that the dangerous swamping of our jails with New Psychoactive Substances, and its a recipe for disaster and only to be expected.
“Safety is the prison service priority, they have recruited more staff, but unless we reduce numbers and increase resources the reality is that this problem is one destined to get worse not better.”
Prison Officers Association Chairman Peter McParlin said: “The true effects of the incidents covered by this publication are bringing the Prison Service to its knees.
“Surely, it is now time for Government and NOMS (National Offender Management Service) to get their head out of the sand and deal with the crisis of their own making.”
Earlier this year David Cameron set out wide-ranging proposals to overhaul the system, including the creation of six new “reform” prisons.
The Government is planning to introduce league tables to assess prisons, while efforts are being made to counter the availability of legal highs – which have been linked to the increasing levels of violence.
Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said:”These figures demonstrate the very serious challenges facing the prison service. They show how badly prison reform is needed.
“We must do better at reducing violence and preventing drugs entering prison.
“We must do more to help prisoners with mental health problems. We have to ensure prisoners can be rehabilitated so they are no longer a danger to others.
“We have secured £1.3 billion to modernise the prison estate and we will put governors in charge. These reforms will ensure prisons are places of decency and improve public safety by reducing reoffending.”