The Shadow Justice Secretary has joined a prison watchdog in raising concerns about overcrowding at a Leeds jail after the deaths of two inmates in one week and allegations of sexual assault.
The Prison Service has confirmed that a second man died at the prison in Armley this month, five days before convicted murderer Liam Deane was found dead in his cell.
Deane, 22, was serving a life sentence after being jailed in October for the murder of his baby daughter Luna at the family home in Wakefield.
Fellow prisoner John Westland, 28, has been charged with Deane’s murder.
An independent investigation will also be carried out by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman into the death of prisoner, Andrew Bodkin, aged 46, who the Prison Service has now revealed died in custody on November 7.
The Prison Service also confirmed that the police were investigating allegations of sexual assault by a prisoner.
New government figures confirm Armley is the most crowded prison in England and Wales and East Leeds MP - at 167 percent above its Certified Normal Accommodation level - and Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon, said: “It is very disturbing to hear these reports from Armley Prison.
“Unfortunately the trend of prisons becoming less safe for inmates and prison officers alike isn’t unique to Armley. Right across the prison service there has been a big increase in the number of assaults on prison staff and inmates and these have reached record levels.
“People have talked of a prisons crisis. I believe we now have to talk about a prisons emergency.
“The Government has cut the number of prison officers by around a third since 2010. This has contributed to making our prisons more and more dangerous places. If our prisons are failing to be kept orderly and are failing to effectively rehabilitate prisoners then they are failing to keep society safe because most people who go into prison come out and live in our communities.
“I will contact my opposite number the Justice Secretary in relation to the situation at Armley.
“The fact Armley jail has become so overcrowded is making conditions worse. The more overcrowded a prison is the greater problem this causes in terms of maintaining order and an effective prison regime, and keeping prisoners and staff safe.”
As a Category B prison, Armley tends to hold un-sentenced prisoners, those awaiting trial, given short sentences and others who are newly sentenced and awaiting transfer to another prison.
Andrew Neilson, campaigns director at The Howard League for Penal Reform, said Armley’s use of ‘additional days’, a disciplinary measure used at the end of custodial sentences, rose from 186 issued in 2015 to 4,394 last year, piling extra pressure on the prison’s capacity.
“It looks as if Leeds is a prison in trouble,” Mr Neilson said.
Asked how overcrowding at prisons should be tackled, Mr Neilson said: “It’s about finding ways of easing pressure on the prison population. There are issues about supply of resources and staff and the government has to be a bit better at managing demands on prisons if they are to be safe and secure environments.”
He added: “Leeds is a very overcrowded prison and I believe the prison inspectors are due to be inspect it quite soon.”