Wednesday, 29 September 2021

HMP Huntercombe Independent monitoring board

EVER wondered what it’s really like inside a prison? How does it operate, what do prisoners do, how are they treated and how does the staff’s relationship with prisoners work?

Every prison, including HMP Huntercombe at Nuffield, near Henley, has a group of local volunteers whose role it is to ask these questions and see for themselves what goes on by monitoring on a regular basis.

Independent Monitoring Boards perform this task, checking that prisoners are getting fair and decent treatment.

The Huntercombe board is currently looking to boost its numbers and invites prospective volunteers to an introductory talk and a tour of the prison before making a formal application.

No special qualifications are necessary — just a curious mind and a certain amount of tenacity.

Anyone over 18 years old can apply who will be subject to Disclosure and Barring Service checks once applications are made.

Board members visit the prison regularly, talking to prisoners and staff, and have the right to see all parts of the prison from the segregation unit to the kitchens, the residential wings to the workshops, healthcare and gym.

Members meet monthly with the governor for updates and to ask questions.

The board produces an annual report for the Justice Secretary voicing any concerns it may have. It also reports to the governor each week on points monitored and asks for comments.

In recent annual reports, Huntercombe’s board has commended the prison as well-managed and noted the generally good relations between prisoners and staff.

However, it has also expressed concern about issues such as restrictions on prisoners caused by staff shortages, prisoners’ property often being left behind at other prisons when they arrive at Huntercombe and the lack of provision for preparing prisoners pre-release.

Huntercombe is one of only two prisons in the country to hold solely foreign national prisoners, the majority of whom will be either deported or repatriated to their native countries. At any given time up to 80 different nationalities may be represented in the prison.

John Evans, who chairs the Huntercombe monitoring board, says: “Being a member must be one of the most challenging and interesting jobs in the voluntary sector.

“I don’t know of any members who have not found their time with us fulfilling and rewarding.

“Anybody willing to commit three to four days a month to this work will find it fascinating.” For more information, send an email to chestertons@aol.com

• Huntercombe was opened as an internment camp during the Second World War and for a time it housed Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, who flew to Britain in 1941 seeking to set up peace talks. Since then it has been a borstal, a young offenders’ institution and, since 2012, has housed category C foreign national prisoners.

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