By Eugene Smith
Durham Prison is one of the most overcrowded penitentiaries in the country, according to official figures covering January 2017.
Statistics disclosed to Palatinate by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirm the jail is 56 per cent overcrowded, holding 931 inmates at the end of last month despite stipulations that it should ideally hold no more than 595 prisoners at any one time.
Although HMP Durham, which is located on Old Elvet in the vicinity of the University Health Centre and Racecourse sports ground, has an operational capacity of 996, the Prison Service’s standards stipulate that the premises should hold no more than 595 occupants to ensure “the good, decent standard of accommodation that the service aspires to provide all prisoners.”
A spokesperson for the Prison Officers’ Association said: “Overcrowding is an underlying factor in the unprecedented rise in violence, access to drugs, mobile phones and low morale. It is a major hurdle to rehabilitation and has hidden costs to the taxpayer that runs into the tens of millions.”
The figures come soon after the news of a December riot in HMP Birmingham, documented in the data as 33 per cent overcrowded, which saw four wings of the prison temporarily overrun and a result of £2 million in damages.
In a speech on 13 February, Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for Justice, admitted “prisons are too overcrowded to work,” and the “management of the prison population at the moment […] isn’t good enough.”
The release of the MoJ figures also comes in the midst of an undercover investigation conducted by the BBC’s Panorama programme that revealed widespread drug use and a lack of control in HMP Northumberland, one of Britain’s biggest penitentiaries.
Photograph: Chris Gilson