27/07/2017 12:16 BST | Updated 27/07/2017 12:25 BST

5 Startling Statistics That Show Just How Chaotic Prisons In England And Wales Really Are

The government says it is improving prisons, but these stats paint a different picture.

Blunders and administrative errors led to record numbers of criminals being released in error from jail last year - and many WON’T have been forcibly returned, the government revealed today.

Statistics showing current conditions in prisons in England and Wales have also exposed soaring levels of violence in jails and assaults against staff.

Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
Soaring levels of assaults have been recorded in jails in England and Wales

Campaigners and watchdogs have issued a catalogue of warnings about violence, drug use and overcrowding across the jails in England and Wales, which has been hit by a number of disturbances in the last year.

And here are five startling statistics which show just how chaotic prisons have become.

1. Record Numbers Of Prisoners ‘Released In Error’

A record number of prisoners were let free in error last year, the government revealed today.

In 2016/17, 71 prisoners were released by mistake, an increase of 11%, from 2015/16, and is the highest in any financial year since modern records began in 2006/07.

Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
Inside category C prison HMP Berwyn, near Wrexham, one of Europe's largest. The new statistics relate to prisons in England and Wales

And some interesting detail from the latest release shows how those prisoners released in error have done nothing wrong themselves - and may not even be returned to prison.

“Prisoners released in error are not considered unlawfully at large. They are not culpable and may be unaware that they have not completed their sentence or have outstanding warrants,” the report said. “Depending on the circumstances of the case, they may not be actively pursued for return to custody.”

2. Record Levels Of Prisoner-On-Prisoner Violence

The number of assaults against prisoners reached a record high last year, the most recent statistics show.

Assaults in prisons in England and Wales increased to a new high of 26,643 incidents in the year to March 2017 - 20% up on the year before.

The total number was equivalent to 20 assaults a day, the figures reveal.

Of these, over 19,000 were assaults involving prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

Prisoners at HMP Birmingham took selfies amid riots at the jail in December

A lack of safety in prisons was highlighted by two high-profile riots last year.

Incidents at HMP Birmingham and HMP Swaleside saw hundreds of prisoners ‘take control’ of entire wings. Injuries were reported during the disturbances.

In Birmingham, a 12-hour riot saw prisoners post gloating selfies to social media as some 600 ran amok in two wings.

3. Record Numbers Of Assaults On Prison Officers

The statistics also reveal record highs in the numbers of assaults on prison officers.

The numbers of assaults included a record 7,159 assaults on staff.
A wing at HMP Swaleside in Kent was taken over by rioting prisoners in December

Prison officers’ unions have raised concerns over staffing levels and the safety of those working alone in wings.

Last year, the Government said it would pay a premium to top graduates to encourage them to work behind bars as part of a move to tackle violence.

4. Huge Surge In Prisoners Failing To Return From Temporary Release

A surge in the number of prisoners failing to return to prison after being released on a temporary licence was recorded last year.

In 2016/17 there were 267 temporary release failures, 42 of which were failures to return, resulting in prisoners being unlawfully at large.

This is an increase of 65% in temporary release failure incidents when compared to the previous year.

The government said the increase could be “partly explained” by more stringent recording methods. 

Matt Cardy via Getty Images
Administrative errors lay behind some errors which saw prisoners released too early

5. 10 Jails Are Of ‘Serious Concern’

The performance of 10 prisons in England and Wales gave rise to “serious concerns”, the government said.

HMPs Bristol, Brixton, Birmingham - where riots occurred last year, Bedford, Pentonville, Hindley, Wandsworth, Liverpool, Guy’s Marsh, and Wormwood Scrubs were awarded “Rating 1”, denoting ‘serious concern’.

The report said: “The Government is reforming the way prisons work in order to improve how they protect the public, keep staff and prisoners safe, and help offenders turn away from crime.”

OLI SCARFF via Getty Images
The G4S-run HMP Birmingham was awarded a 'Rating 1' denoting 'serious concern'

Earlier this month Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, warned that staffing levels in many establishments are too low to maintain order and described the conditions some inmates are held in as “squalid, dirty and disgraceful”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “These numbers confirm what the Chief Inspector of Prisons has described in graphic detail - that our prison system is nowhere near being safe for those who live and work within it.”

Ministers have launched a recruitment drive to add 2,500 frontline officers, and put in place new measures to tackle the availability of mobile phones and drugs in jails as part of a reform drive.

Justice Secretary David Lidington said improving safety and security in prisons was his top priority.

He said: “These figures reinforce how crucial it is that we make progress as quickly as possible. 

“I have seen first-hand the challenges our dedicated and hard-working prison staff face.

“Boosting the frontline is critical to achieving safety and the number of prison officers we are recruiting is rising, with the number of new prison officers joining the service at its highest level since 2010.”