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Tagged In:  Youth Offending

According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, punishment hearings held inside prisons have risen sharply in the space of a year, with 159,497 extra days imprisonment being handed out to those already detained. 




Known to criminal justice staff as external adjudications, there were 21,629 external disciplinary hearings held in prisons in England and Wales in 2014-15. This reflects the growing challenges the prison estate faces, and further reinforces the need for the reform, which was covered in part within the last Spending Review

The report says that for many prisons the adjudication system has “become a routinely used behaviour management technique” and that external adjudications, which involve the imposition of up to 42 extra days, have risen by 24% to 159,497 equating to 438 years. For prisoners, the time is not added on to the end of their sentence, but to the date at which they are eligible for release on licence.  

Varying approaches


There does appear to be a high degree of variation on the use of adjudications depending on the prison. Taking a closer look at the numbers, and assuming a prison population of over 78,000, there’s an average of an extra two days per prisoner place. Some of the Youth Offending Institutes were found to have between an average of 5-10 days per prisoner place, whilst HMP Haverigg (a male Category C and D prison) and HMP Whatton (Category C holding male sex offenders) had seen no increase at all.

That said, HMP Prison Leeds and HMP Prison Liverpool house a similar number of male offenders, around 1200, but Leeds ordered just 260 extra days, and Liverpool 4,265.

Young offenders


Broadly speaking though, the overall rise appears to be more prevalent in the youth detention sector, with nine out of the 10 prisons that most frequently impose extra days as punishment being young offender institutes. In fact the use of this form of punishment on those under the age of 18 has doubled inside of two years. 

Of course, it’s incredibly difficult to draw direct comparisons between bodies of research, but when we’re seeing more young people enter the criminal justice system with medical issues closely linked to their behaviour, which we covered in last week’s blog, perhaps the Howard League’s findings are not too surprising.

We must remember though, that the secure estate can be volatile and the use of such adjunctions as a form of punishment are necessary to safeguard prisoners as well as staff working within custodial environments. In talking about the report findings prisons minister Andrew Selous said in a parliamentary answer:

“Discipline Procedures are central to the maintenance of a safe custodial environment. They are provided for by the Prison and Young Offender Institution Rules which require adjudications to be conducted lawfully, fairly and justly, and for prisoners and young people (aged 15-17) to have a full opportunity to hear what is alleged against them and to present their case...These cases may merit a punishment of additional days to a prisoner’s time spent in custody if the prisoner or young person is found guilty.”

With the reform of prisons firmly on Michael Gove’s radar, the frequency in use of adjudications serves as a useful insight into the functioning of prisons. Given external adjunctions have increased by nearly 50% in just four years, it’ll be interesting to see over the coming years, what impact the prison reforms will have. 

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