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Prisons: Overcrowding

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the impact of prison overcrowding on the number of (a) prisoner suicides and self-inflicted injuries, (b) prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-prison officer assaults and (c) re-offending rates. (153917)

The precise impact on prisoners of increased prison populations and their overcrowding, alongside other factors, is unclear. Cell-sharing can be a protective factor and overcrowding itself does not explain why there are self-inflicted deaths in prisons. Most significantly, a high proportion of prisoners arrive in prison with risk factors that we know increase the risk of them harming themselves, such as substance withdrawal, uncertainty and anxiety about their own cases, the impact of and adjustment to imprisonment, family concerns, a history of previous abuse or self-harm, and mental health issues.

However, managing very high numbers of prisoners can hinder efforts to reduce prisoner suicide rates. For example, by causing an increase in transfers between prisons, some prisoners being located further from home and family support, a possible reduction in the time staff can spend with individual prisoners on care and risk assessment, and an increase in the length of time prisoners are locked in their cells, rather than engaged in regime activities, association and other purposeful activity.

Similarly, there is no clear link between higher population levels and violence. For example, analysis of young offenders statistics, a prisoner group that can be associated with higher assault rates, has not been able to show any such link.

In respect of re-offending rates, the National Offender Management Service has not established a correlation between overcrowding and re-offending. Prison Service monitoring of the delivery of offending behaviour programmes has shown that less than 1 per cent. of those who started offending behaviour programmes in 2006-07 failed to complete them because of transfer, possibly indicating any increased prisoner transfers due to population levels or other factors are not hindering completion of offending behaviour programmes.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many of the self-inflicted deaths in prisons in (a) 2006 and (b) 2007 to date occurred inside prisons that were classified as overcrowded. (154278)

The information requested is provided in the following table.

2006

12007

Total self-inflicted deaths2 in custody

67

58

Self-inflicted deaths that occurred in prisons where the number of prisoners held in one or more cells exceeded Certified Normal Accommodation

59

46

1 up to and including 20 August only.

2 Self-inflicted deaths include all deaths where it appears that a prisoner has acted specifically to take their own life. Annual numbers may change slightly from time to time as inquest verdicts and other information become available (previously some 20 per cent. of these deaths have not received a suicide or open verdict at inquest).