Fears raised over level of violence at Doncaster prison

HMP Doncaster
HMP Doncaster

Fears have been raised over the level of violence at Doncaster Prison, following an inspection by a European watchdog

Members of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture - part of the Council of Europe - visited HMP Doncaster and HMP Pentonville, in London, last spring as part of an inquiry into violence in prisons.

Their report, published today, warns that violence in Britain's prisons may be even worse than previously thought because incidents are being under-reported.

Assaults, self-harm and suicides behind bars have all surged to record levels over recent years but the watchdog has raised concerns that the picture could be more serious still.

The watchdog found 'systemic and structural weaknesses' in the recording of attacks in prisons and after visits to Doncaster and Pentonville said committee members had 'gained the impression that the actual number of violent incidents appreciably exceeded the number recorded'.

The report says: "This issue appeared to be particularly acute at Doncaster Prison, where the delegation established that some violent incidents had either not been recorded or recorded as being less serious than they were in practice.

"Moreover, the delegation observed first-hand that violent incidents were not always reported by staff.

"While the number of recorded violent incidents at all prisons visited was alarmingly high, the committee believes that these figures under-record the actual number of incidents and consequently fail to afford a true picture of the severity of the situation."

In the year to September, assaults in jails in England and Wales reached a record high of 25,049 - equivalent to more than 60 every day, the most recent official statistics show.

But the European watchdog warned that violence is 'spiralling out of control' and described overcrowding as 'chronic'.

Its report says: "Over the last 25 years, the prison population has nearly doubled, and almost all adult prisons now operate at or near full operational capacity and well above their certified normal capacity."

Regimes in all prison establishments visited were said to be 'inadequate', with a considerable number of prisoners spending up to 22 hours per day locked up in their cells.

At one youth offenders institution, some juveniles could spend up to 23 and a half hours a day locked up alone in their cells, according to the committee, which argued that holding youngsters in such conditions amounts to 'inhuman and degrading treatment'.

The report said: "The cumulative effect of certain systemic failings was that none of the establishments visited could be considered safe for prisoners or staff."

It also claimed that, at both Doncaster and Pentonville, operational safety had been compromised in part due to low staffing levels or inadequate deployment of staff on wings.

The Prison Officers’ Association today told the Yorkshire Post staff feel “unsafe” as budget cuts bite and warned the problem is wider than just being an issue at Doncaster.

Glyn Travis, a spokesman for the Prison Officers Association, said: “The report doesn’t come as any surprise. Whether you are publicly or privately operated, staffing levels and budgets cuts has been the most serious underlying problem in the increasing violence within our prisons.

"We call on the Government to increase funding across both the public and private sector and bring prisons to a state of stability.”

He said the reported issues with violence and staffing levels in Doncaster are 'the same everywhere' across the country.

“The reduction in staff and the rise in violence has led to staff feeling very, very unsafe in all prisons, it is not just Doncaster,” he added.

Julia Rogers, of Serco, which runs HMP Doncaster, said: "HMP Doncaster has changed and improved significantly since the committee’s visit a year ago in April 2016.

"Violence in prisons, mainly fuelled by drugs, is a significant problem across the whole prison estate, but we are at the forefront of challenging and addressing this issue and at Doncaster a series of innovative measures were introduced in June 2016 that have reduced violence by 36 per cent.

"These ideas are now being looked at as an example of how to improve violence across the whole estate."