Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Violence falls but complaints of bullying on rise at prison

VIOLENT incidents at HMP Huntercombe in Nuffield have continued to fall.

The prison, for foreign national men, recorded 87 cases last year, compared to 97 in 2018 — a drop of 10 per cent.

However, complaints relating to bullying increased by 53 per cent to a total of 26 for the year while control and restraint was used a total of 125 times, compared to 91 in 2018.

The prison’s independent monitoring board said it was content the prison was operated safely and there were no serious incidents during the year.

Its annual report said: “There have been no deaths in custody during the reporting year. The prison has continued its policy of zero tolerance of violent incidents and, from discussions with various grades of staff, the board recognises that Huntercombe is regarded as a generally safe environment in which to work.  

“However, in April 2019, a prisoner and a wing officer were hospitalised with scalding burns as a result of a serious assault.  Fortunately, neither the officer’s nor the victim prisoner’s burn injuries were life changing and the officer has since returned to duty.

“Such incidents are rare and the board considers this to be a reflection of the professional and caring approach followed by the prison.”

One of the factors contributing to violent incidents continues to be the use of “spice” — synthetic psychoactive drugs.  

The prison utilised a variety of resources to combat the use of spice, including intelligence-led and random searches and testing, a drug dog and education treatment.

The report added: “The prison acquired equipment to test incoming mail for the presence of illegal substances. However, it is too early to assess whether the use of this equipment will reduce the overall level of substance availability within the prison.”

The prison was commended for its fair and humane treatment of prisoners and the board noted that violent incidents had continued to decline year-on-year since 2017.

Complaints relating to sentence management — including release dates and parole — have halved but the board said it was “concerned” about the increase in complaints of bullying.

The prison’s kitchen also needed replacing, gymnasiums were in need of repair and failing and dilapidated equipment replaced.

The board commended Huntercombe for the effort and success achieved in preparing prisoners for release, despite the lack of a formal resettlement budget. 

It reported that foreign national prisoners are not treated equally with UK national prisoners in respect of resettlement preparation.

“The continued inaction by ministers to authorise a budget for this activity perpetuates an unfairness and inequality in the prison system,” it said.

 Meanwhile, the Offender Management in Custody programme has been implemented and the prison has introduced a cross-disciplinary meeting for prisoners with complex needs, where care plans are devised and discussed. The prison maintains a supportive and friendly environment, it said.

Other improvements included the establishment of a social enterprise workshop, beehives in the prison grounds while the use of release on temporary licence has increased.

John Evans, chairman of monitoring the board at Huntercombe, said: “The board is confident that the prison treats all prisoners fairly and humanely and that it makes considerable efforts from local resources to ready prisoners for release. 

“Unfortunately, ministers have still not provided a dedicated resettlement budget to enable the prison to develop programmes specifically for foreign prisoners being returned to their own countries, or to enable it to utilise the existing resettlement initiatives for the small number of prisoners that are adjudged to have a right to remain in the UK. 

“In this regard, both the prisoners and the prison are treated unfairly when compared to the remainder of the prisoner population and prison estate. 

“The board queries whether to some extent the prison is a victim of its own success, and that by managing to provide a limited resettlement service, it is deemed undeserving of a dedicated budget.”

It has asked Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer to approve a resettlement budget for HMP Huntercombe. The board has consistently made this recommendation to Mrs Frazer and her predecessors. 

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