Spare cells in short supply at packed prison

HMP Northumberland
HMP Northumberland

HMP Northumberland is running out of cells, with campaigners warning that the safety of staff and inmates is at risk as the prison population increases.

Ministry of Justice figures show that the prison has capacity for 1,348 inmates. In March, it was operating at 98% of its capacity, with room for just 23 more prisoners.

Campaigners say that the unchecked rise of the prison population is responsible for the huge increase in assaults on staff and other inmates – a situation described as a ‘national emergency’.

The Prison Service measures its own capacity in terms of Certified Normal Accommodation – the number of prisoners it says it can accommodate in the ‘good, decent standard of accommodation that the service aspires to provide all prisoners’.

However, with the majority of prisons overcrowded across England and Wales, they also have a separate measure called Operational Capacity.

It is the maximum number of prisoners the Prison Service says each institution can safely handle while maintaining control and security.

In March, Northumberland’s population stood at 98% of this capacity.

Prisons contain a number of one and two-person cells. In overcrowded prisons, more inmates will be put in cells than they were originally designed to hold.

Figures released last month showed that 369 assaults were recorded at Northumberland in 2017, over double the number in 2012. Of those attacks, 56 were on staff.

There were also 776 cases of self-harm recorded in the prison last year. In 2012, there were just 205.

The director of the Prison Reform Trust, Peter Dawson, said: “Overcrowding directly undermines all the basics of a decent prison system, including work, safety and rehabilitation. Building prisons isn’t the solution – breaking our addiction to imprisonment is.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “Prison numbers can fluctuate, which is why we have robust plans in place to ensure we always have enough prison places for those sent to us by the courts.”

“We will always ensure there are enough cells across the prison estate and manage this in a way that gives taxpayers the best possible value for money.

“We are investing £1.3billion to build modern new establishments, with up to 10,000 new prison places and better education facilities.”

Data: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/prison-population-figures-2018,

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/safety-in-custody-quarterly-update-to-december-2017