Howard League responds to Bristol prison inspection report

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Bristol prison, published today (17 October 2023).

Inspectors visited the prison in July 2023 and found alarmingly unsafe conditions, with eight men having taken their own lives since the last inspection in 2019. A ninth man died shortly afterwards, and a man was charged with murdering his cellmate.

Conditions were so bad that inspectors invoked an urgent notification, giving the Secretary of State for Justice 28 days to respond with an action plan for improvement. Bristol had been made the subject of an urgent notification after the 2019 inspection as well, which indicates how little had changed in the years in between.

In July, inspectors found very high levels of self-harm, drug use and, particularly, violence, which was found to be higher than in most other adult prisons.

There were severe staff shortages across the prison, resulting in most men being locked up for almost 22 hours a day while officers struggled to forge effective relationships with them. The regime was found to be significantly lacking, with too few men allocated to education, skills and work.

The prison was severely overcrowded, with almost 550 people crammed into buildings designed to hold about 400. Almost half of all people in the prison were living in double cells designed for one. Health provision was insufficient, particularly for prisoners who were mentally unwell.

Inspectors found that about a quarter of the men released from the prison had nowhere to live.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This alarming report on Bristol prison encapsulates perfectly the problems caused when more and more people are thrown into overcrowded jails with insufficient staff to keep them safe and help them to move on from crime.

“Red flags were raised about Bristol four years ago, when the prison was made the subject of an urgent notification. For nothing to have changed in the years since is a damning indictment on a system that has been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long.

“It underlines the need for sensible measures to reduce prison overcrowding – including the reform of short sentences, which have been shown to be ineffective by the government’s own research.”