5th Aug, 2020

Inspectors discover decline in treatment of prisoners

IMMEDIATE improvements must be made to HMP Hewell after inspectors found a decline in treatment and conditions for prisoners at both the closed and open jails.

The inspectors gave the category B prison, which holds 870 prisoners, its third consecutive ‘poor’ grade for safety and the same for ‘purposeful activity’.

At the category D section, purposeful activity and rehabilitation were also deemed poor which HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said was ‘extraordinary for an open prison’.

Four of the eight scores across the two sites were poor, leading to Mr Clarke to consider invoking the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) process where the Secretary of State must respond publicly within 28 days with plans to improve the prison.

Mr Clarke decided against using the UN approach despite a period in HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) ‘special measures’ failing to improve Hewell.

He said: “There were no staff shortages, and a new Governor had only recently been appointed.

“We considered the changes that were needed to bring about improvement were all within the gift of the prison itself.”

Inspection findings showed many prisoners felt unsafe with almost 70 per cent saying it was easy to obtain illicit drugs.

Around a quarter said they had acquired a drug habit in prison and self-harm had doubled since the last inspection in 2016.

Many prisoners said they were treated respectfully by staff, but far too much low-level misbehaviour went unchallenged and education, skills and work were assessed as inadequate.

Attendance at activities was poor and those who did not attend were often locked in their cells for up to 22 hours-a-day.

Mr Clarke added the poor safety grade was not down to levels of violence but because the prisoners did not feel safe, violence victims were not supported and because perpetrators went unchallenged.

Though the open prison was ‘safe’, Mr Clarke said living conditions were the worst he had seen for an open prison – dormitories were crowded, many cubicles were untidy and dirty and there was a great deal of food waste, dirty clothing and other rubbish.

Mr Clarke said the leadership of the prison and regional HM Prison and Probation were aware of what needed doing and an inspection in a matter of months would be carried out the check steps were being taken.

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General for Prisons, said he shared the inspectors’ confidence the HMP staff and management team would be able to meet the considerable challenges facing them.

“A new drug strategy, extra sniffer-dog patrols and increased searches in partnership with local police will make the closed prison safer, while a new education provider is now in place to better prepare all prisoners for release.”

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