RATES of assault have nearly doubled at one north London prison in what reformers have dubbed a 'national emergency'.

Assaults in Pentonville Prison, Islington have increased by 92 per cent in five years.

Of the 524 assaults recorded in 2017, 125 were on prison staff. And 89 assaults were defined as serious, a category which includes sexual assaults and those where victims required hospital in-patient treatment.

In 2012, 273 assaults were recorded, meaning a five-year increase of 92 per cent.

The numbers also reveal that 448 cases of self-harm were recorded in Pentonville last year, a decrease of 9 per cent on 2012.

Across prisons in England and Wales, nearly 30,000 assaults were recorded last year, more than double the number in 2012. Self-harm also increased by 92% over the same five-year period, with nearly 45,000 cases in 2017.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "This shameful rise in violence and self-injury is the direct result of policy decisions to allow the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked while starving prisons of resources.

"This is a national emergency, and the government must respond boldly and urgently. Positive steps to reduce the prison population would save lives, protect staff, and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime and despair."

Justice Secretary David Gauke said: "The levels of violence, suicide and self-harm in our prisons are far too high and we are taking urgent action to address these problems.

"Assaults on our hardworking staff will never be tolerated. We are ensuring prison officers have the tools they need to do the job, rolling out body worn cameras, 'police-style' handcuffs and restraints, and trialling PAVA incapacitant spray.

"Our recruitment drive is vital to ensuring prisons are safe, secure and decent so they can successfully rehabilitate offenders, and 90% of our additional 3,111 prison officers are due to be on landings by the summer."

Two self-inflicted deaths were recorded in Pentonville in 2017, a definition which includes suicides and accidental deaths through self-harm.23