25 Mar 2015

Staff ‘lost control’ of Guys Marsh Prison, say inspectors

Drugs, gangs and violence have brought virtual anarchy to an English jail, according to the latest report from the chief inspector of prisons.


Following an unannounced inspection, Nick Hardwick concluded management and staff had all but lost control of Guys Marsh prison in Dorset.

He found the high levels of violence were being driven by supply of synthetic drugs, such as the legal high “Spice”, Subutex and illicitly brewed alcohol, where debts would trigger threats to families outside prison.

The chief inspector described how one gang leader boasted to him about the power they wielded in the jail, which holds among its 552 male population a significant numberĀ  of rival gang members involved in serious organised crime.

Prison records revealed 17 assaults on staff, 53 assaults on prisoners and 19 fights in a six-month period. The inspectors also noted that 25 per cent of the inmates felt unsafe, with some seeking refuge in the segregation unit.

They conclude that offender management was poor and the prison failures were posing unacceptable risks to the public, staff and prisoners. The Howard League for Penal Reform described the findings as “the most worrying of all” recent inspection reports.

National Offender Management Service CEO, Michael Spurr, denied the prison was out of control and since the report there’s been extra support to clamp down on drug supply and gang violence.

He said: “Inspectors visited Guys Marsh during a particularly difficult period. Changes in the population, combined with a rise in the illegal trafficking of new psychoactive drugs, was fuelling gang-related violence.

“The prison was not out of control and action was being taken in response to these threats – but I accept the situation at the time wasn’t acceptable. Since the inspection we have worked with the police to provide extra support to the prison to tackle drug supply and gang activity – including moving perpetrators to more secure gaols as necessary.

“I visited Guys Marsh myself last month. It is now stable, operating safely, and providing a consistent and decent regime for prisoners.”

But the Prison Officers’ Association disputed these comments. General Secretary Steve Gillan told Channel 4 News: “The inspectors’ report was concluded at the end of November.

“These things take time for turn around. Health and safety is paramount for the protection of staff and prisoners and the levels of violence at Guys Marsh are dangerous and unacceptable. Staffing levels are very poor.”

The situation inside the Dorset jail came in talks with Justice secretary Chris Grayling today about health and safety in prisons, the main issue being the high levels of violence.

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