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Prison assaults every 20 minutes as Tory cuts cause chaos in our jails

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon slams decision to 'axe thousands of prison officers'

ATTACKS in prisons are occurring once every 20 minutes, shocking figures published today reveal, as violence behind bars reaches record levels.

There were 31,025 assaults in prisons in England and Wales in the year to March — a 16 per cent increase on the previous year and almost double the figure of a decade ago.

Incidents of self-harm among prisoners also increased by 16 per cent to a new record high of 46,859 — representing an incident of self-harm every 11 minutes.

Labour’s Richard Burgon said the figures marked “a new low point in this government’s mismanagement of our prisons.”

And the shadow justice minister was unequivocal about the cause: “What we’re seeing here are the dire consequences that austerity has created.

“The blame for this prisons emergency lies squarely with the Conservatives’ decision to axe thousands of prison officers and slash the prisons budget.”

The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) latest statistics also show there were a record 9,003 attacks on prison staff — a 26 per cent increase on the previous year.

Almost 900 of those assaults on staff were classed as “serious,” those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns or extensive bruising.

And the number of assaults on staff in the last three months up to March 2018 also increased by 4 per cent to 2,427 — the highest quarterly tally on record.

The MoJ said there has been a change in how assaults on staff are recorded, which may have contributed to the increase.

But Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), told the Star: “It’s shocking, it’s appalling and it’s clear that the employer is not doing enough to protect POA members.”

He added that if the MoJ refused to “give us the protective measures we so desperately need,” the POA would look to take legal action.

Mr Fairhurst said: “We are protected by health and safety legislation and we are protected by employment law. We will rule nothing in and nothing out.”

He also pointed out that prison staff, who worked in “the most violent industry in the UK,” were turning their backs on a dangerous and low-paid job: “Since 2010, we have lost over 7,000 front-line operational prison officers.”

He added: “More and more, increasingly experienced staff are leaving, but more frustratingly staff in the first two years of their service are leaving in droves.

“The police are recruiting, the ambulance and fire service are recruiting, the Border Agency…we can’t compete.”

Justice Secretary David Gauke said the MoJ had "recently announced £30m in prison security, which builds on our investment in body scanners, improved searching techniques and phone-blocking technology."

The number of deaths in prison custody fell by 2 per cent to 310 in the year to June — though that still represents six deaths behind bars every week.

Meanwhile, incidents of self-harm among prisoners — and the number of individual prisoners self-harming — increased to record levels.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, said: “These statistics point to the disturbing reality of prison life with escalating levels of distress, self-harm, homicide and violence.

“The only way to improve safety and reduce prison deaths is to dramatically cut the prison population and invest in community alternatives.”

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