UK

Prison killings at record level, official figures show

Wormwood Scrubs in London

There were a record number of murders or manslaughters in prisons in England and Wales in the last year, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

The department said seven inmates had been killed in the year to June - four more than in the previous 12 months.

It is the highest level of prison homicides since records began in 1978, when there were five such cases.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said the figures were "sobering" and "urgent work" to reduce violence was under way.

Assaults and incidents of self-harm have also reached their highest levels in at least nine years.

'Psychoactive substances'

Assaults on inmates and staff increased to 16,885 in the year to the end of March, up from 15,051 in 2013/2014.

The number of self-harm incidents rose to 27,315, up almost 4,000 from 23,529 the year before.

There were 551 attacks by prisoners on staff which were classified as "serious assaults" - more than double the number two years ago.

Mr Selous said: "As the justice secretary said a fortnight ago, our prison estate is out of date, overcrowded and, in far too many cases, insanitary and inadequate.

"This is compounded by a prison population consisting of more serious offenders than in the past, and the greater availability of new psychoactive substances which cause violent and psychotic behaviour."

He said work was already under way to reduce violence and prevent drugs entering prisons, while the government also plans to replace dilapidated prisons with new buildings and improve prison rehabilitation and education.

'Cut populations'

Earlier this month, in his annual report, the outgoing chief prisons' inspector, Nick Hardwick, said prisons were in their worst state for 10 years.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove believes overhauling prison education is key.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the figures showed the scale of the challenge "for a radical reforming Secretary of State for Justice who has said that he wants to create prisons that redeem people".

"It is time to reduce the prison population so that redemption can take place. We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences."

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