Staff resources at HMP Stocken remain too tightly stretched and the Rutland based prison continues to face the scourge of drugs, claims the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) in its annual report on the establishment.
The IMB at Stocken – a category C training prison holding more than 800 prisoners, most serving sentences between four years and life – says it is disappointed that a previous report a year ago to the then Prison’s Minister Andrew Selous urging a review of staffing levels has not led to real change.
Mike Siswick, Chairman of Stocken IMB, made up of local people acting as independent monitors, said the Minister for Prisons and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) must realise that paring resources to the bone, if not beyond, significantly affects the ability of the prison to provide a safe, secure and positive environment. It also limits the capacity to deal with unexpected demands on resources and amounts to false economy.
“This continuing failure to provide at least an optimum, rather than a barely minimum level of resource could be construed as suggesting that stated Ministerial intentions that prisoners should be able to better themselves in preparation for release are, in fact, merely aspirational and that real delivery intent remains lacking” said Mr Siswick.
Ironically, during the period covered by the report, staffing problems were slightly lessened, following a major incident of indiscipline in June 2015. This put one wing, which was severely damaged, out of action. “That incident marginally lessened pressure on staff as the officers allocated to that wing were available for re-deployment”, said Mr Siswick.
The IMB at Stocken considers that in the interests of both prisoners and staff wellbeing the need to provide an optimum level of staffing, with a real contingency to cater for the unforeseen such as escorts, hospital bedwatches and similar matters, needs to be promptly and urgently addressed.
The IMB has called for a substantive response, with the Prisons Minister specifying what action will be taken, ideally with a timetable.
The ‘tightness’ of resources is exacerbated claims the report, by the problems created by drugs, especially the scourge of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS). Mr Siswick said
“Whilst we are much encouraged by recent legislation finally outlawing these substances, formerly known as ‘legal highs’, more needs to be done particularly in relation to drug testing.
“In our last report we urged Ministers to provide the necessary funding to enable drug testing kits, especially designed to detect NPS to be supplied, and we repeat that call again this year,” said Mr Siswick.
Failure to invest the necessary resources to defeat this scourge means a continuance of problems and greater cost in the longer term. NPS in particular, presents significant dangers to those who use them and, can do long term damage to health, and equally importantly, fuel aberrant behaviour and violence to other prisoners and staff said the report.
Another issue highlighted by the report concerns the remittance of money to prisoners. Under present arrangements quite substantial sums can be sent in to the prison. These sums are held in accounts by the prison authorities on behalf of prisoners.
Prisoners may use these funds, together with their prison earnings, to purchase permitted items. However the sending in of comparatively large sums can, and does, create ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ within the prison which can heighten tensions.
Moreover items can be purchased and then sold or otherwise traded to obtain illicit items or for ‘services’ which might include violence. Far stricter limits on the amounts and frequency for remitting money to prisoners are needed.
The Stocken report also raises concern about the limited number of meaningful work opportunities for prisoners, leading to qualifications and real job opportunities upon release.
“The prison itself is to be commended upon the success it has had in getting prisoners to engage in education and work whilst serving their sentences. However not all of the available work is challenging or will lead to external employment on release,” said Mr Siswick.
“Some months ago the then Prisons Minister Andrew Selous indicated in a speech that meaningful and productive work, coupled with links to external employers was a central policy focus.”
The IMB at Stocken believes that to date there is little evidence of that focus being delivered and much more needs to be done by Ministers, Prison Service Industries and NOMS to support the good work being undertaken by staff at Stocken to help prisoners prepare for release, and to become on that release productive members of society.
Overall, despite these concerns Stocken remains in line with previous reports a generally well managed and efficient establishment, where prisoners are treated fairly.