Like every prison in the country, HMP High Down, in Surrey, has an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), a group of lay people who monitor all aspects of prison life to ensure that prisoners are treated with ‘fairness and decency’. The IMB have just published their annual report for 2015, which describes both the good work done by the prison and the problems created by increasing access to drugs, the outsourcing of maintenance work and pressure on staff.
There have been concerns this year at increasing levels of violence in the prison, often connected with the unpredictable effects of so-called ‘legal highs’, which have led to an increasingly challenging environment for prison officers. While staff numbers have improved during the year, there are still not enough officers to truly engage with prisoners and help them address the frustrations that prison life inevitably brings.
The IMB sees much good work done in High Down. There are opportunities for prisoners to take classes ranging from literacy to life skills such as cooking, business skills and Open University courses, and workshops including brick-laying, plastering and barbering. However, there are not sufficient resources to provide appropriate ‘purposeful activity’ for all prisoners, leaving many ‘banged up’ in their cells for many hours. High Down has shown it can help prisoners in their rehabilitation, giving them skills to use when they leave prison, but its potential is hampered by restrictions on resources and staffing.
Referring to Michael Gove’s stated aim to increase opportunities for work for people in prison, the IMB report concludes by asking the Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous, how he will ‘deliver the promised rehabilitation when prisons are chronically under-resourced and near capacity’.