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18 April 2023

Report reveals “perfect storm” of staffing and funding crises affecting people in detention

The annual report from the UK’s National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), published last week, highlights how a “perfect storm” of staffing and resourcing crises have adversely affected people in prison.

The NPM consists of 21 independent bodies, including HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Independent Monitoring Boards, which have powers to visit and report on all places of detention including prisons, police custody, places of immigration detention, secure settings for children and young adults, and mental health settings.

The UK’s NPM exists by virtue of the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), which the UK ratified in 2003.

The report reveals that severe shortages in staffing and resources were undermining treatment and conditions across custodial settings. This, the report found, was somewhat related to COVID-19 related absences, but deeper problems with recruitment, retention, training and support are posing chronic problems in the justice and health systems.

In prisons, the report found that people were too often locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, with severe impact on mental health, purposeful activity and rehabilitative opportunities. Inadequate provisions for women, particularly those with mental ill-health, was a concern for several members, and rates of self-harm remained concerningly high among women and girls.

In custody, women did not always have access to female staff where appropriate, and were sometimes detained or transported with men, including some with a history of violence against women, risking retraumatisation.

Commenting, Pia Sinha, Chief Executive of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“This indepth report from the NPM paints a depressing picture that will be all too familiar to those living and working in our prison system. Chronic problems of staffing and resourcing mean that lockdown conditions which ought to have stopped with ending of public health restrictions have persisted in our prisons. People in custody are spending too long locked in their cells without access to sufficient purposeful activity. As the report shows, this is having a serious negative impact on mental health and wellbeing and prospects for successful rehabilitation.”