There were nearly 8,000 assaults on prison staff in the year to June 2023, almost one an hour on average, the Liberal Democrats have said, arguing that the statistic shows the consequences of prisoner overcrowding and low staffing levels.
Official statistics showed there were 7,908 assaults over the 12 months in prisons across England and Wales – 6% higher than the same period a year before – with 748 of them classified as serious.
Analysis by the party shows the number of recorded assaults for every 1,000 prisoners has almost doubled in recent years, rising from 49 assaults in the year to June 2023 to 96 in the most recent figures.
There have been significantly greater increases in such violence at individual prisons over that period, the statistics show. HMP Wakefield, a high-security facility in West Yorkshire that recorded seven assaults on staff in 2015, recorded 61 assaults in the first six months of 2023.
HMP New Hall, a prison for women and young offenders that is also in West Yorkshire, recorded nine assaults in 2015, then 42 assaults in the first half of 2023. The equivalent figures for HMP Bedford, a category B prison, saw a rise from 22 to 82.
The prison population has been gradually rising in recent years. It is now at about 88,000 and is forecast to potentially exceed 100,000 in the next few years.
The increase has been driven in part by longer sentences, but also by a steep rise in the number of people on remand, which is caused by delays in the courts system. By mid-2023, one in five prisoners were on remand, compared with one in nine in 2019.
There are also notable shortages of staff. When a prisoner escaped from HMP Wandsworth in September, it emerged later that on the day he fled, 80 prison officers had not turned up for their shifts, leaving just 60% of posts filled.
Earlier this year, a German court declined to extradite to the UK a man accused of drug trafficking because of concerns about prison conditions.
Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesperson, said: “No one should ever be assaulted in their workplace. Yet the Conservatives have left prisons overcrowded, under-staffed and unsafe, as these figures show. “Incidents like these will just further fuel the major issue of prison staff recruitment and retention. It’s time for the justice secretary to get a grip and fix the crisis in our prisons. It’s the only way to create a safe environment for both staff and offenders.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “These figures show assaults on staff are down nearly a fifth on pre-pandemic levels as a result of our action to improve safety by boosting frontline staff and investing £100m security to crack down on violence.
“We have also doubled the maximum penalty for assaulting our hardworking prison officers to two years behind bars to ensure punishments fit the severity of the crime.”