Thursday, 25 February 2021

Inspector criticises and praises prison

INMATES at HMP Huntercombe say they have been bullied by staff, according to a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.

It is a category C facility and is one of only two prisons in the country with the sole purpose of holding convicted foreign nationals.

It currently accommodates about 400 men, which is down by 15 per cent compared with the last inspection in 2017.

A scrutiny visit was carried out in December, which found the service to be well-led.

However, the inspector’s report said prisoners had experienced bullying or victimisation by staff. They had also experienced mental health problems due to a lack of opportunity for time outside their cells.

The report says: “In our survey, a third of prisoners said they had been victimised by staff; this was reported by significantly more younger prisoners and those from a black and minority ethnic background.

“Twenty per cent of prisoners said they felt unsafe and 34 per cent said they had been victims of bullying or victimisation by staff.

“However, 63 per cent of younger prisoners and 46 per cent from a black and minority ethnic background said they had experienced bullying or victimisation by staff.

“The reasons for these findings were unclear, but prisoners commented on dismissive attitudes by staff to their concerns about the time they spent locked up, worries about immigration cases and concern about inconsistent social distancing.

“Most prisoners were still locked in their cells for about 23 hours a day. Some progress had been made in resuming purposeful activity but there were missed opportunities for increasing activity in a safe way.

“Not all workshops had re-opened, even though they provided adequate space for socially distanced activity.”

The inspector found that the “speedy and highly effective” roll-out of video-calling technology had helped prisoners to maintain family relationships.

Recorded violence and use of force remained low, while cleaning measures in light of the coronavirus pandemic were found to be of a good standard.

Charlie Taylor, HM chief inspector of prisons, said: “Lower prisoner numbers contributed to the ability of staff to deliver a consistent regime throughout the pandemic and prisoners were able to have a shower and take outside exercise every day. However, most still spent 23 hours a day in their cells and this was affecting mental health for some.

“About a quarter of prisoners had some form of employment, which increased time out of the cell, but there were missed opportunities for further expanding activity in a safe way. This was partly because the prison had to wait for the approval of centrally managed recovery plans.”

He said the prison had made “very significant and sustained progress” in addressing weakness in risk management and release planning identified during the previous visit.

Mr Taylor added: “This is one of the most positive scrutiny visits that we have so far undertaken. The prison was well-led and progressive and, while we have identified some concerns that need to be addressed, prisoners generally spoke positively of their experiences at Huntercombe.”

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