Norfolk prison overcrowding revealed after government takes control of HMP Birmingham
PUBLISHED: 16:19 21 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:30 21 August 2018
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Overcrowding at Norfolk's prisons is forcing prisoners to share cells, eating, sleeping and even using the toilet in spaces designed for one.
The latest Ministry of Justice figures show that 718 prisoners were crammed into just 616 spaces at Norwich Prison in July.
At Bure Prison, on the former RAF Coltishall site, 647 criminals were housed in 604 spaces.
While at Wayland Prison there were 863 spaces but 910 prisoners.
Campaigners say that the unchecked rise of the prison population is responsible for the huge increase in assaults on staff and other inmates, culminating in the Government taking over HMP Birmingham from its contractor, G4S, after a damning inspection report.
A prison officer at Norwich prison spoke to this newspaper about conditions at the Knox Road jail where assaults are said to be commonplace, with inmates using improvised weapons and boiling water to attack officers.
“Just a couple of days ago we had a member of staff being chased on a landing with an improvised weapon,” the officer said.
“They [the inmate] had broken off an old paint roller and sharpened the end. I don’t think anyone should go to work and expect to be in fear of their lives.”
In Birmingham one of the government’s first actions was to move hundreds of inmates to other jails, reducing the overcrowding.
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, it also has a separate measure called operational capacity.
This is the maximum number of prisoners the Prison Service says each institution can safely handle while maintaining control and security.
In Norfolk HMP Bure had the highest operational capacity in July, running at 99pc. This was followed by Wayland at 97pc and then Norwich at 95pc.
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.
Annual figures, published by the Prison Service in July, show the extent of the problem.
From April 2017 to March 2018, 36pc of prisoners in Norwich Prison were in overcrowded cells, 272 inmates on average. At Bure this was 14pc of prisoners, 91 inmates on average. Wayland also had 14pc of inmates in overcrowded cells, 129 on average.
Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, said: “Overcrowding isn’t simply a case of being forced to share a confined space for up to 23 hours a day where you must eat, sleep and go to the toilet.
“It directly undermines all the basics of a decent prison system, including work, safety and rehabilitation.
“No government has succeeded in building its way out of overcrowding. So we need a fundamental rethink about who we send to prison and for how long.”
There has been a renewed focus on prison policy after the government took control of HMP Birmingham.
A shocking inspection found inmates used alcohol, drugs and violence with impunity, while the corridors were covered with cockroaches, blood and vomit.
Chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said it was “some of the most disturbing evidence” inspectors have seen in any prison.
Across the country, assaults have more than doubled in prisons over the last five years, and cases of self-harm have increased by 93pc.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The fact that Birmingham prison is seeing its population reduced by 300 to help enable the government to improve conditions there is a tacit admission that prison overcrowding plays a key part in why our prison system fails more generally.
“Cramming more people into prisons than they were designed to hold is a recipe for violence, drug abuse and mental distress.
“Bold action is needed to reduce the number of people behind bars and ease the pressure on other prisons.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “All prisons in England and Wales are within their operational capacity which means they are safe for inmates.
“Nonetheless, reducing crowding is a central aim of our modernisation of the prison estate.
“That is why we have committed to delivering up to 10,000 new prison places across the country, and only last month announced that two new prisons would be built at Wellingborough and Glen Parva.”