The scale of the prisons safety crisis has been laid bare as official figures revealed suicides, assaults and self-harm behind bars have all surged to new record levels.
There were 354 deaths behind bars in England and Wales last year, including 119 which were apparently self-inflicted.
Self-harm incidents jumped by nearly a quarter, while there were more than 25,000 assaults in the 12 months to September – equivalent to nearly 70 attacks every day.
Officers are also facing a rising torrent of violence, with the number of assaults on staff rising by two fifths.
The figures sparked warnings that the crisis is “spiralling out of control” and calls for the prison population to be reduced.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss said she has taken action to stabilise the estate but warned the issues would not be fixed in weeks or months.
The statistics, released by the Ministry of Justice, showed:
:: In the 12 months to September 2016 there were 25,049 assault incidents – an increase of 31% on the previous year
:: There were 6,430 assaults on staff – up 40% on the previous year. Of these, 761 were serious
:: Self-harm incidents rose by 23% to a record level of 37,784
:: The rate of self-inflicted deaths has doubled since 2012
:: There were three apparent homicides in 2016, down from the record high of eight in the previous year.
The latest findings underline the scale of the task facing ministers as they attempt to reform the prisons system.
Last year thousands of staff walked out in protest over health and safety concerns, while a spate of serious disturbances erupted.
Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said reducing the jail population is the “only realistic way to make our prisons safe in the foreseeable future”.
He said: “Another record low in standards of safety should leave no-one in any doubt of the need to relieve the pressure on our failing prison system.
“We know that the worst outcomes happen in overcrowded prisons.”
Professor Pamela Taylor, forensic psychiatrist and chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ forensic faculty, said the prison service is “in crisis” and mental health teams are struggling to help prisoners in “desperate need”.
She added: “In many cases there is no-one available to escort prisoners to in-prison clinics; from time to time, even when a psychiatrist goes to a prisoner’s cell … there are not enough prison officers present and the cell door can’t be unlocked for safety reasons.”
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: “This shows the prisons crisis is spiralling out of control. Chronic underfunding and lack of staff are turning our prisons into hotbeds of violence when they should be a place of rehabilitation.”
Deborah Coles, director at the charity Inquest, called for a “radical reduction” in the prison population.
She said: ” This broken system cannot deal with societal problems of mental and physical ill health, addictions, poverty and housing.”
Justice Secretary Liz Truss said she has been clear that ” the violence, self-harm and deaths in our prisons are too high”.
She added: “I have taken immediate action to stabilise the estate by tackling the drugs, drones and phones that undermine security. We are also investing £100m annually to boost the frontline by 2,500 officers.
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“These are long-standing issues that will not be resolved in weeks or months but our wholescale reforms will lay the groundwork to transform our prisons, reduce reoffending and make our communities safer.”