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News | 18.11.2016

Howard League: Failing prisons resort to draconian punishments as crisis behind bars deepens

More than 215,000 days – or 590 years – of additional imprisonment were imposed on prisoners found to have broken prison rules last year, a report by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveals today (Friday 18 November).

Prisons across England and Wales, under growing pressure due to overcrowding and a lack of staff, are increasingly resorting to draconian punishments in a desperate and counter-productive attempt to keep control.

The findings have been published in a Howard League report, A Million Days: The world of prison discipline, which states that more than 1million additional days – equal to almost 3,000 years – have been imposed on prisoners since 2010.

The report looks at how prisons operate disciplinary hearings called adjudications, where allegations of rule-breaking are tried. These mainly concern disobedience, disrespect or property offences, which increase as conditions in prisons deteriorate.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data show that, across England and Wales, the number of additional days’ imprisonment imposed has increased by 30 per cent in a year – from 165,856 in 2014 to 215,348 in 2015.

Private prisons generally hand down more additional days of imprisonment per prisoner than public prisons. Of the 14 private prisons in England and Wales, all but two imposed more additional days in 2015 than in 2014.

The report marks the start of a new Howard League campaign to reduce the number of people in prison by reforming The 3Rs – rules in prison; release from prison; and recall to prison.

The campaign aims to get immediate behaviour change by authorities that would ease the pressure on the prison estate by reducing the population.

The campaign begins in the week when up to 10,000 prison officers stopped working during a day of protest at the intolerable conditions behind bars.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The system of adjudications has become a monster. Originally intended as a way to punish incidents of unacceptable conduct, it is now routinely used as a behaviour management technique by prisons that are out of control.

“Instead of solving the problems, these punishments feed a vicious cycle, piling more pressure on the prison population and worsening overcrowding, which in turn creates conditions for drug abuse and violence.

“At the same time, rules to incentivise prisoners’ behaviour have been made more punitive, which is also contributing to the poisonous atmosphere behind bars.

“The government has acknowledged that there are problems in the system, but warm words are not enough. The imposition of additional days should be seen as a sign of a poorly performing prison and included in new measures being proposed to monitor safety and order. The rules around incentives and earned privileges must also be revised, as ministers have now promised.

The Howard League 3R campaign will ask governors to deal with infractions instead of referring to external adjudicators, and the judges to exercise self restraint by not bloating prison numbers even more.”

Governors have a choice in the way they deal with rule-breaking. They can manage it themselves or pay for an external adjudicator (a district judge), who has the power to impose additional days of imprisonment.

The number of cases sent to external adjudicators soared by more than 80 per cent between 2010 and 2015.

The report states that new guidance, issued by the Chief Magistrate in 2015, to impose more severe punishments for rule-breaking has contributed to an “explosion” of additional imprisonment.

The Howard League estimates that the extra days imposed in 2015 has cost the taxpayer £19million, on top of what has been spent on running the adjudications.

The MoJ has recognised that the prison disciplinary system is problematic and in need of reform.

Earlier this month, the MoJ published a white paper, Prison Safety and Reform, which states that governors will be encouraged to take a restorative approach.

The Howard League legal team has supported hundreds of children and young people in prison who have been accused of misbehaving and faced additional days in prison.

Adjudications account for the majority of calls to the charity’s free legal advice line for young people.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. A Million Days: The world of prison discipline can be viewed on the Howard League website at:
  3. The report is based on statistics supplied in May 2016 by the then Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, in response to a Parliamentary Question asked by the then shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter:
  4. Details about the Howard League 3R campaign can be found on the charity’s website at:
  5. The total number of additional days imposed on prisoners at each prison is stated in the table in this link: