New Hall women's prison in Wakefield meets targets despite rise in assaults

HMP New Hall.
HMP New Hall.

New Hall Prison in Wakefield is meeting the majority of its targets, despite rising levels of assault on staff and prisoners within the institution.

A newly-released report from the Ministry of Justice shows that the female prison, located in Flockton, was rated as "meeting the majority of targets" for 2017-18. It is the second year running that the prison has been awarded the second-highest of the four possible grades.

But the report also showed that the rate of violent attacks in the prison had increased compared to 2016-17, reflecting a long-term trend.

There were 46 assaults on staff recorded in 2017, compared to six in 2012.

Nationally, prisons were given higher ratings on average, but the Ministry of Justice said outcomes were not directly comparable with previous years due to a change in the framework. Issues with data reporting have meant that the extent of assault and self-harm in institutions may not historically have been fully recorded.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said this was a concern.

She said: “It is shameful that so many prisons are performing so poorly, with violence and self-injury again rising to new highs.

“Given we now know that prisons have been under-reporting assaults and self-injury incidents, the fear must be that some are faring even worse than the ratings indicate.

“On the horizon, however, we should see improvements in the next few years if the number of people in prison keeps falling.

“Further steps to reduce the prison population would save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

Despite the rate of cases of self-harm in New Hall decreasing in the year to 2017-18, it followed years in which it has become much more common in the institution.

Across England and Wales, 14 of the 118 prisons assessed were considered to be "exceptional". At the other end of the scale, the performance of 15 was of serious concern.

The Ministry of Justice said that they are investing heavily in prisons and have recruited more than 3,000 additional officers as they aim to urgently improve conditions.

The prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We need to get the basics right in prison, which is why we are giving them extra support to ensure they are safe, secure and decent.

“We recently announced an investment of £30million to stabilise the estate, including £16million dedicated to improving facilities at prisons with the most pressing problems – to help bring them up to the standard we expect.

“And our recruitment drive is vital to ensuring prisons can be places where offenders can be rehabilitated.

"We are well ahead of schedule, with 90 per cent of our new 3,111 prison officers due to be on landings this summer.”