18th Sep, 2020

'Covid response good but violence levels at HMP Hewell mean Tardebigge jail is still not safe' - Inspector

A PROPER focus has been put on managing Coronavirus risks at HMP Hewell but concerns remain over social distancing and violence levels, particularly against staff, which remain high.

The fears were aired by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke following a scrutiny visit to assess jail’s recovery five months after the Government’s restrictions were introduced.

A third of prisoners felt unsafe – a reflection of the lack of consistent attention to social distancing. This and the violence levels meant Hewell ‘could not be considered a safe prison’.

Care for particularly vulnerable prisoners was good but many still felt they unsupported at their time of need.

Although a curtailed regime at the start of the restrictions was understandable, little progress had been made to ensure prisoners had sufficient time out of cells or purposeful activity. It led to inmates’ frustration and potentially to a deterioration in mental and emotional well-being, Mr Clarke said.

He said one daily hour out of their cells was not enough and prison leaders should take note that 70 per cent of prisoners surveyed at Hewell reported mental health problems.

The small number of isolating prisoners with symptoms could not shower regularly and sometimes had to wait a fortnight.

Mr Clarke said some prisoners with impaired mobility had not had time in the fresh air for weeks and struggled to access showers regularly which was unacceptable.

Efforts had been made to ensure that prisoners could maintain some contact with their families in the absence of visits.

In-cell telephones and the reintroduction of visits – a priority for the prison after nearly five months without any – was appreciated by prisoners.

Mr Clarke noted a new governor had arrived five weeks before the visit and had increased time out of cell from half an hour to an hour, opened a workshop for a small number of prisoners and introduced an outside exercise session for all prisoners once a week.

But many workshops remained empty, classroom-based education was still not permitted and only 14 per cent of prisoners were employed.

There was good news with regard to the virus itself with no prisoners testing positive since April and, the inspector found, overall the prison had managed the initial stages of the crisis well.

The prison has started work on improvements following a troubling full inspection in June 2019, though Covid-19 had interrupted many of these plans.

Mr Clarke said while restrictions needed to be eased in a safe and measured way, progress was too slow.

“Additional improvements could be made by the governor, but further progress was limited by rigid national procedures which prevented a creative leadership team from implementing credible and safe plans to improve the regime.”

He added the Governor was realistic about the significant challenges and had an optimistic vision for Hewell and its ability to deliver a more person-centred, purposeful and rehabilitative regime within the constraints of a busy local prison.

The prison must now secure a recovery plan to enable the jail to fulfill its role safely an decently.

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