British prisons have seen a “significant” and worrying deterioration, the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales has said.
Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Nick Hardwick urged the government to take action, telling the programme that he saw prisoners living in “deplorable conditions” in some jails.
The comments come following a new report from the Howard League for Penal Reform (HLPR), showing that the number of prison officers in the UK has fallen by 30 percent since 2011.
The report also shows that the number of suicides in prison has dramatically increased by 40 percent since last year, and that prisons across the country are struggling to deal with overcrowding.
"We are seeing a lot more prisons that are not meeting acceptable standards across a range of things we look at. And I go to most of these inspections and I see with my own eyes a deterioration,” Hardwick said.
Hardwick also said that it was “not acceptable” for UK prisons to have such a high rate of suicides.
“I think they are an indication of wider problems in the Prison Service, an indication of a prison system under growing pressure,” he said.
However, some have blamed the government’s austerity measures as the root cause of prisons struggling to cope.
Chief executive of the HLPR Frances Crook said that prisons were being pushed to “breaking point” and that the situation was “beyond crisis.”
"I am absolutely sure that lack of staff [due to] cuts in prison officer numbers are contributing to increased violence, people being locked up for longer, and as a consequence, the highest death rate we have ever had in prisons," she said.
The UK has one of the highest rates of incarceration in Western Europe.
Currently, more than 80,000 people are behind bars, and according to official government figures, each prisoner costs the UK taxpayer nearly £40,000 per year.