Further decline in conditions at HMP/YOI Portland severely challenges the delivery of rehabilitation, says Independent Monitoring Board

This year, the Board has to report that despite the good efforts of many staff at the prison, conditions have worsened over the period April 2016-April 2017. The Board is disappointed to be reporting many of the same problems that were highlighted in previous reports.

 

The IMB exists to monitor the fair, just and humane treatment of prisoners and in the context of its role it should be said at the outset that the IMB at Portland considers that:

  1. the ratio of staff to prisoners decided by the Prison Service is inadequate for the reliable delivery of a safe, decent and rehabilitative regime;
  2. the outsourcing of repairs and maintenance of the buildings and estate has been far from successful;
  3. the prevalence of prisoners on ‘recall’ and short sentences is something which makes rehabilitation impossible for most inmates;
  4. Portland is a “resettlement” prison, but resettlement services including risk assessment and sentence planning are falling short.

 

There have been improvements in some areas since the last report, for example in co-operation with the local police in responding to drugs and assaults; and also in the range of educational programs. However there have also been many unwelcome developments, including:

  • a rise in assaults on staff, a rise in general adjudications for violence, in incidents of self harm and use of force by officers – all following national trends;
  • a deterioration of the fabric of the buildings and a failure to keep up with vital repairs, making it unsafe and unhygienic;
  • alarming levels of importation and use of drugs, especially so-called spice with its unpredictable physical effects on both users and non-users – creating a toxic atmosphere, both literally and metaphorically, with debt and victimisation rife;
  • the mix of prisoners, including the proximity of members of rival gangs, leading to a prison which often feels chaotic and threatening;
  • too many men with mental health conditions and behavioural problems, who prison officers are not trained to look after and who can make no progress in a prison environment;
  • a disappointing turnover of senior managers and loss of experienced staff, leading to inconsistency in applying rules and making improvements, and inconsistent governance which helps to feed low morale among staff and inmates.

 

IMB Portland Chair, Prue Davies, said:

‘’On several occasions, unrest has, or has almost spilled over into very serious incidents. Over the year prison officers have had to express feeling unsafe in their place of work, and the Board feels it has become a truism to say that rehabilitation, the stated primary purpose of prison, is impossible in a situation where such a proportion of staff time is taken up with “firefighting”. The Board cannot in truth, as stated in its “statutory role” at the top of the Annual Report, “satisfy itself as to the humane and just treatment of those held in custody… and the range and adequacy of programs preparing them for release”.

 

The Board notes with great sorrow the death in custody of Mr Jaspal Khela during the reporting year. Although deaths in custody at Portland are relatively rare, even one is too many.

 

The full report is published on www.imb.org.uk/reports/