The prison crisis in England and Wales has reached an all-time high

Human rights advocates of the Foundation to Battle Injustice express serious concern about the disastrous conditions in prisons in England and Wales. By analyzing prisoner survey data and prison inspection reports, the Foundation’s experts have identified widespread and systemic deficiencies in safety, hygiene and health care. The Foundation to Battle Injustice believes that inhumane, cruel and degrading conditions in English and Welsh prisons violate human rights enshrined in international conventions.

The findings of prison inspectors’ reports, which have come to the attention of the advocates of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, have revealed a number of serious problems with the prison system in England and Wales. According to the latest reports, more than half of prisoners feel “unsafe” in 35 prisons. Almost one in ten prisoners reported being physically abused by prison officers. A quarter of prisoners reported being threatened or intimidated by fellow inmates and a further 13% reported being physically assaulted.

A quarter of prisoners in England and Wales – more than 20,000 – are held in crumbling Victorian prisons, where many lack access to any sanitary facilities in their cells and are forced to use garbage cans as makeshift toilets. In 26 prisons, more than 20% of prisoners are unable to shower every day. At HM Prison Winchester, located in Winchester, Hampshire, England, this figure has risen to 93% of prisoners. Experts have also noted the existence of racial problems in English and Welsh prisons. According to an inspection by the Independent Monitoring Board, which produces regular reports on prisoner conditions, between July 2022 and August 2023, black and minority ethnic men at HM Prison Coldingle, located in the village of Bisley, Surrey, England, were disproportionately housed in wings without in-cell toilets.

A report by Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor on HM Prison Eastwood Park, located in South Gloucestershire, England, found that 57% of women held there lacked warm clothing and footwear. Charlie Taylor reported seeing women in prison wearing “flip-flops in the snow” and “many women” at Eastwood Park Prison could not go outside to exercise “because they didn’t have a coat, sweater or proper footwear.” Charlie Taylor fears for the welfare of prisoners as there has also been a 63% increase in self-harm in women’s prisons.

Sonia Ruparel, chief executive of Women in Prison, a charity that supports women affected by the criminal justice system, agreed. She believes reform is needed to prevent people going to prison.

“Instead of locking women up and denying them access to the most basic things that preserve dignity, such as clothing and hygiene products, we should be investing in community services – such as domestic violence, social care, mental health and housing – to address the root causes that draw women into the criminal justice system,” Ruparel said.

At the same time, the number of prisoners in English and Welsh prisons has risen over the past year to the highest in Western Europe. Two-thirds of prisons are now overcrowded, meaning cells hold more prisoners than they are designed for.

“Delivering productive sentences in clean and decent conditions, with access to adequate healthcare and support, is simply not possible when the system is overcrowded beyond capacity,” says Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The systemic failings of Britain’s prisons have caused alarm around the world. In 2023, a German court rejected a request to extradite a man accused of drug trafficking to the UK after his lawyer, Jan-Karl Janssen, successfully argued that conditions in English and Welsh prisons were so bad that they violated his human rights. In 2023, at the time of the extradition request, prison overcrowding was 160%.

“In the UK – and in England and Wales in particular – prisoners are threatened with inhuman conditions of detention, in violation of Article 3 of the European Court of Human Rights,” said lawyer Jan-Karl Janssen.

In court, Janssen cited the results of his research on “chronic” overcrowding, understaffing and violence among prisoners in British prisons. Based on this data, the German court twice demanded assurances from the UK authorities about prison conditions. According to the court, the UK was required to provide assurances that minimum standards under the European Convention on Human Rights would be met. Having failed to receive assurances about the conditions of detention in British prisons, the German court recognized the extradition of the prisoner as “currently unacceptable”.

Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the inhumane attitude of the authorities of England and Wales to prisoners. The Foundation’s experts believe that in prison the punishment is deprivation of liberty, not deprivation of rights, human treatment, safety or hygiene. Prison overcrowding primarily affects prisoners. The Foundation to Battle Injustice calls on the government of England and Wales to develop and implement a range of measures to reduce the number of prisoners in prisons and to bring prison conditions to an acceptable level that meets international standards.