High Down started 2017 as a Reform prison and as such was able to opt-out of the public sector recruitment process, enabling faster recruitment. Following a successful local campaign, the Board welcomed the recruitment of 86.5 new officers to address previously reported understaffing (IMB Annual Report 2016), but is concerned to know whether they will be given sufficient mentoring and support during their early months. This increase equates to approximately 43% of the total of Band 3 officers being new in post. The Board also has concerns around the potential for ‘institutional culture’.
The Board remains perturbed by the constantly high number of segregated prisoners that it believes reflects the volatile state of the prison, coupled with the numbers of new and inexperienced staff, in that difficult prisoners are not always being managed on normal residential locations.
The safety of the prison was compromised at times during 2017, in part due to there being insufficient or inexperienced staff to manage the daily challenges, and an increasing propensity for prisoners to resort to violence on each other, an increase of 43 incidents to 264 in 2017. Although the assaults on staff decreased by 10 for the same period, the Board is still of the opinion that 79 assaults are unacceptably high. These figures are based on reported incidents.
Whilst not within the Board’s remit or ability to assess, there is also increasing concern at the number of prisoners across the prison who present to us as having behavioural and/or other mental health issues, and who are often not considered by, or requiring attention from the mental health team.
Of further concern is the continued importation and use of illicit drugs which has remained an endemic problem throughout the year despite some successful actions by the prison to capture or detect drugs, also mobile phones and improvised weapons. Prisoners are regularly found to be under the influence of Spice and members of staff attending incidents can also be adversely affected by the drugs. The Board is aware of some prisoners who have opted to stay in Segregation as a way to ‘stay clean’ since the supply and use of drugs is across the prison.
The Board has been informed of the decision to re-role the prison to Category C during 2018 and has reservations on this decision since the prison currently only has 417 work places and 184 education places for an operational capacity of 1160. In addition to this, the resettlement centre was closed for much of 2017.
At present sex offenders receive no courses to address their offending behaviour before release and the Board understands that this will not change under the re-role.
Applications to the Board relating to Offender Management Unit (OMU) issues remain the highest category at nearly 20% of all general applications from prisoners. Examples are the inability to access their Offender Supervisor, progressive transfers, lack of sentence plans or, when a sentence plan is in place, the lack of opportunity to complete required courses because they are unavailable at High Down.
Read the report in full here.