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Prisoners Are Attacking Each Other Because They Have "Nothing To Do"

Compensation claims for injuries sustained in attacks involving prisoners and staff reached £562,700 last year. That's the biggest payout for four years.

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PA Wire/Press Association Images Paul Faith

Prisoners are increasingly turning to violence because they spend too much time in their cells, campaigners have warned.

BuzzFeed News can reveal that £562,700 of compensation was handed to prisoners and jail staff in 2013–14 for injuries sustained in attacks.

That is the biggest total since 2009–10.

Most of the cash – some £337,475 – went to 12 staff who were assaulted by prisoners.

Another £154,325 was handed to 19 prisoners attacked by fellow inmates.

And 10 prisoners received a total of £70,900 for being assaulted by staff, including during "incidents of control and restraint".

The stats were released by the Ministry of Justice under Freedom of Information laws.

The Prison Reform Trust said that "drastic" government cuts had left fewer prison wardens to run activities for prisoners. It means rising numbers of inmates are being forced to stay in their cells with nothing to do.

The Prison Officers Association (POA), which represents jail staff, also warned that overcrowding means prisoners are being squeezed into cells designed for fewer people.

Having to "eat and defecate" in the same small space was leading to "rising tensions", the POA warned.

PA Archive/Press Association Images Anthony Devlin

Assaults in prisons and young offenders institutions went up 10% in the year to July 2014 from 14,045 to 15,441, separate stats show.

Serious assaults – those requring medical treatment or leading to a burn or bruise – increased by almost a third from 1,377 to 1,817.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, told BuzzFeed News: "Drastic cuts to prison budgets have resulted in a 28% reduction in prison officers since 2010. As a result, more prisoners are spending more time locked in their cells with nothing to do.

"A number of prisons are now running 'restricted regimes' because they do not have the staff available to run safe and purposeful activities.

"Coupled with this, a rise in the use of legal highs in custody, is contributing to make prisons less predictable and more violent places. Rising numbers of serious assaults should serve as an urgent wake-up call to ministers."

Peter McParlin, chairman of the POA, warned that the current 85,000 prison population in England and Wales could rocket to 100,000 by 2020. He said 5,000 prison places had been lost since the coalition took power, with 18 prisons closed down.

"That leads to more overcrowding – and there's no end in sight," he said. "You've got two prisoners in a cell designed for one, where they have to eat and defecate in a cell. It's not en suite accommodation.

"You're forcing three prisoners in a cell designed for two. If you're not getting out for exercise or to use the phone or to classes or alcohol awareness courses, that just increases the tension."

Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

But David Hines, founder of the National Victims' Association, which supports victims of brutal crimes, said prisoners were getting an easy ride.

"It's about time the Ministry of Justice puts the victims first," he said. "They can find money for compensation for prisoners who get assaulted. It infuriates us. I'm sick to death of it."

He said his organisation was forced to rely on fundraising to give help and advice to victims that should be provided by the government.

Prisons Minister Andrew Selous said: “Violence against our hardworking prison officers is abhorrent and unacceptable – and it will not be tolerated.

“They do an excellent job and their safety and security is of paramount importance, which is why we are working closely with the police and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to ensure that prisoners who attack our staff are prosecuted and spend longer behind bars.

“We have managed major organisational change in the last year to create significant savings for the taxpayer and have always ensured that we have enough staff to deliver decent and safe prison regimes. We continue to operate an effective regime with safe population levels and space for those sent by the courts."

Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Emily Ashton at

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