29 Nov 2016

Prison regime ‘possibly the very worst’ ever seen by inspectors

Suicides double in five years, five ambulance calls out a day to a prison in Bristol because of drug use, and a sixth death in one London prison alone in the past year. And if it couldn’t get any worse it does. Today, yet another damning report by the prison inspectorate into a failing prison which will test Liz Truss’s resolve on how quickly she can respond.

In fact, everything happening in the jail system is now a test of how quickly the Ministry of Justice can respond. Lives are at stake. Yet the prison service is simply treading water.

A picture shows pigeons roosting on the top of the wall at HM Prison Pentonville in north London on November 15, 2016. Thousands of prison officers in Britain have stopped working in protest over a system "in meltdown", union leaders said on November 15, prompting the government to take legal action in the High Court. Britain's largest prisons union, the Prison Officers Association (POA), directed its members to take part in the action over what it described as the "volatile and dangerous state of prisons". / AFP / BEN STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Hindley HMP outside Wigan used to be a young offenders institution, but was converted into cat C prison two years. Its first unannounced inspection over 11 days in July is within millimetres of labelling it the worst prison in England and Wales.

The regime for over 500 prisoners, it states is “possibly the very worst inspectors had ever seen in this type of prison.”

The report states that it is “far easier” to get hold of drugs than clean clothes, sheets or books from the library.

The situation it went on was “actually disabling and disempowering the aspirations of prisoners and many staff alike.”

Inspectors found most prisoners were locked in their cells for more than 24 hours. Residential wings in landings and cells were mouldy and filthy.

Levels of violence were very high, over 20 assaults a month. Self harm incidents were running at three a week.

20-year-old Stephen Connell was found hanged in his cell in Hindley in February this year – one of a record 102 prisoners who have taken their own lives this year. The inspectors found recommendations to improve safety for vulnerable prisoners at Hindley still had not been implemented.

The Justice Select Committee is embarking on its major inquiry into prison reform today. But that too can’t respond quick enough. The Justice Secretary Liz Truss has really only one short term option, reduce the prison population or too many more will die.

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said, “Since the inspection a detailed improvement plan was developed to address the weaknesses identified by inspectors and this is being closely monitored.

“Progress has been made to improve safety and purposeful activity with more prisoners engaged in high quality work and training opportunities.”

Follow Simon Israel on Twitter @simonisrael

Tweets by @simonisrael