Woodhill prison suffered significant problems in 2015/16 because of serious staff shortages, failures by the maintenance contractor and increased use of drugs. There were 8 deaths in custody and violence against staff and prisoners continued to rise.
Because of staff shortages the prison functioned for the entire year with restrictions on prisoners’ activities. This is an insidious erosion of acceptable standards. Reduced activities mean prisoners are locked up for longer and staff have less time to engage with prisoners.
The Board continued to see a high number of prisoner applications. Too often the complaints raised by prisoners should and could be dealt with by prison officers.
Despite the staff shortages there remain many dedicated, hardworking and professional staff who deliver an outstanding service.
There are many more elderly prisoners. Some are suffering with illnesses associated with old age and are not accommodated or managed appropriately.
There was a rise in prisoners’ use of NPS (new psychoactive substances). The law has now changed and they are now illegal to possess in prisons, detection dogs are trained and new tests have been developed. However their use is closely linked with the increases in deaths in custody and increasing numbers of ‘near misses’. The drugs are unpredictable and prisoners can become violent or prone to self-harm.
The introduction of a private contractor to run the maintenance of the prison was disastrous. There were unacceptable delays to repairs and maintenance. Some outstanding work has to be reported through Health and Safety before repairs are done. It is an unacceptable squandering of public money.
Against this background the prison management must be congratulated for introducing a rehabilitative culture and enabling environment, embracing the entire prison. Progress has been badly hampered by staff shortages. There is a deep frustration that the ethos of the senior management cannot be realised in these circumstances.
Action has been taken to tackle all these issues and some improvements have already happened in recent months.