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Belmarsh prison sees dramatic fall in number of prison officers - despite rise in prisoners

PUBLISHED: 13:16 31 August 2016 | UPDATED: 17:25 31 August 2016

General views of Belmarsh prison

General views of Belmarsh prison

Archant

Levels of violence, suicide and self harm in prisons have risen to highest levels on records

The number of frontline officers working in public-sector prisons has seen a dramatic shift over the last year, despite government plans to provide new staff.

Since 2013, Belmarsh Prison has lost nearly 100 of its prison officers, despite a national rise in the prison population.

There are currently 278 officers working at the prison in Thamesmead, which can hold just over 900 prisoners.

But just three years ago, there were 370 officers on hand to manage prisoners.

Levels of violence, suicide and self-injury are at a record-high, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has published the figures.

Director of campaigns, Andrew Neilson, has warned of a ‘toxic cocktail of violence, death and human misery’.

“Reducing resources while allowing the prison population to grow unchecked has created a toxic cocktail of violence, death and human misery.

“These figures show how reductions in staffing and problems in recruiting and retaining new staff are feeding the problems behind bars.

“The vast majority of those sent to prison will be released back to the community and so it matters to all of us what happens to people when they are sent to prison.”

Last month, Ministry of Justice statistics revealed 321 peopled died in prison custody during the year to the end of June 2016.

The figure was a 30 per cent rise on the previous 12 months.

“Throwing someone into a raging torrent of violence, drugs and despair is not going to help that person steer away from crime.

“On the contrary it will feed more crime and create yet more pressure on the failing prisons.

“The Ministry of Justice can look again at its recruitment policies but only wide-ranging reforms, which include a serious attempt at reducing prison numbers, will move us away from institutions that shame the nation.”

The number of assaults on prison staff has increased by 40 per cent. There were 5,423 incidents during the 12 months to the end of March 2016 – at a rate of almost 15 per day.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

“Safe prisons are fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system.

“Our dedicated prison staff, who support tens of thousands of prisoners every day, are vital to the safe running of our prisons. We have recruited 2,900 staff over the last 12 months and are taking significant action to make sure we have appropriate staffing levels.

“The secretary of state is determined to make sure our prisons are safe and places of rehabilitation and will set out her plans for reform shortly.”

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