Increase in number of protests at Onley Prison

editorial image

The number of protests at Onley Prison has gone up over the past year, figures show.

HM Prison and Probation Service data shows that Onley prisoners rebelled against officers 56 times in 2017-18, up from 45 the previous year.

That’s an increase of 24%, with experts warning that a high number of protesting prisoners could be a symptom of a “failing prison”.

In prisons across England and Wales there were a total of 6,719 protests in 2017-18, a 19% rise on the previous year.

According to HMPPS, there are four types of protesting behaviour: barricades, hostage incidents, concerted indiscipline and incidents at height.

The most common type across England and Wales are incidents at height, which involve any disorderly situation that takes place above the ground. Four incidents at height were recorded at Onley last year.

Common examples of an incident at height include prisoners climbing onto safety netting, onto portacabins or up trees.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust and a former governor of High Down Prison in Surrey, said grievances that cause protests are mostly “day-to-day things”, like not having access to medication, not being let out of cells at the right time or not getting clean clothing on a regular basis.

He said that a lack of staff has a “knock-on effect” on the day-to-day running of the rest of the prison, which can cause prisoners to become frustrated and increases the likelihood of protest incidents.

He added: “The solution is all about nipping things in the bud. Often these things have started with something that could be solved with a single phone call.”

The Prison Reform Trust said that prisons have formal systems for dealing with complaints, with avenues of appeal and the option to take a complaint to the Prison Ombudsman if the person is not happy with the outcome.

Prisoners at Onley also barricaded themselves in their cells, blocked doors and prevented staff from accessing areas in the prison a total of 48 times last year. The number of incidents has been rising over the past five years - just four were recorded in 2012-13.

Last year there were also three recorded incidents of concerted indiscipline, defined as two or more prisoners defying instructions from officers or deliberately refusing to comply with requests.

There was one hostage situation - which involve prisoners holding one or more people against their will.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said that protesting behaviour is a “sign of desperation”.

Chief executive Frances Crook said: “Someone could barricade themselves in their cell because they are terrified of violence levels on the wing, or because they want to harm themselves.”

She said that a low number of recorded incidents may not be an indicator of a prison doing well.

She added: “It depends on how things are recorded by prison staff. They could try to downplay problems in the prison by under-recording incidents, or exaggerate reports to try and show that they’re under pressure.”

HMPPS said that they have recruited an extra 3,500 prison officers over the last two years.

It said an additional £40 million was being invested to “tackle the drugs and mobile phones which frequently fuel bad behaviour.”

A prison service spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate indiscipline, and anyone breaking the rules faces extra time behind bars.”