Fear, bullying, violence, grime and overcrowding: one prison in Austerity Britain

HM Inspectorate of Prisons reports that cramped and dirty Lincoln Prison has rising prisoner numbers, falling staff levels, and one prisoner still inside nine years after the end of his sentence. More than half of vulnerable prisoners said that they had been victimised by other prisoners and nearly half said that they had been victimised by staff. And the government wants to keep on cutting costs.

Today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published one of its most damning reports in years following an unannounced inspection of Lincoln Prison.
 
After reading the report it would be impossible to conclude that Lincoln is anything but a failing institution. Violence, bullying, complaints and drug use are all significantly higher than in comparable prisons. An extremely high number of prisoners spend time in the segregation unit, often referring themselves voluntarily due to safety fears despite the fact conditions are poor “with a lack of natural light, dirty cells, a grim special cell and a dirty exercise yard”.
 
The likelihood of a stint in Lincoln having any rehabilitative effects appears slight. Inspectors noted that almost half of prisoners have no access to work or education programmes and found clear evidence that prisoners were developing drug problems following their arrival at Lincoln, rather than receiving treatment for existing addictions.
 
The lack of effective management and planning was stark. The prison had no strategy for equal treatment of inmates, even though it had itself collected data suggesting a much higher use of segregation for black and minority ethnic prisoners. The additional needs of elderly and disabled prisoners were largely ignored. Foreign national prisoners had little access to translated materials, and communication with immigration authorities was particularly poor. One foreign prisoner has spent an appalling nine years in prison beyond the end of his sentence awaiting a decision on whether he is to be deported.
 
This report, whilst shocking, is not surprising. Lincoln is a Victorian prison housing over 50 per cent more prisoners than it was designed to accommodate. It has seen a 20 per cent fall in staff numbers over the last three years.  Under these conditions, it is inevitable that a prison will become less safe.

The National Offender Management Service has responded to this report pledging to take urgent action, and has already removed the governor from his post. This will hopefully lead to improvements, however changing staff and implementing new procedures can only go so far in an overcrowded and underfunded institution.
 
As Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons said in October, the government faces a clear choice: increase prison budgets or cut the prison population. Justice Minister Chris Grayling has rejected this and instead proposed a third option of cutting the cost of each prison place. Let’s hope he reads the Lincoln report and reconsiders his position. 

About the author

Director of Campaigns, The Howard League for Penal Reform