New staff arrivals at HMP Dartmoor bring improvement but prisoner self-harm still at high levels

The Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Dartmoor has published its annual report covering the period from 1st October 2017 to 30th September 2018.

In the report the IMB members, who are volunteers appointed by Ministers to monitor how prisoners are treated, detail the developments and changes undergone in the past year.

Areas of improvement include:

• the long-anticipated arrival of newly trained officers, which has alleviated some of the staff shortages experienced previously;
• extra training in the new role of key worker, to provide each prisoner with a named officer who has regular contact with allocated prisoners in addition to their usual duties;
• new initiatives being introduced to support vulnerable or distressed men, for example through art groups;
• using music and opera to develop skills and confidence; and
• further development of an innovative conflict resolution programme.

The Board believes the keyworker scheme (part of a national initiative) should provide each prisoner with a clear and regular route to communication with their prison offender manager and ensure they know the next steps of their sentence, as part of developing transition arrangements ahead of future release.

However, the Board has significant concerns about:
• the high rates of self-harm with incidents running at a higher level than in 2017. In August the figure stood at 627 incidents against a projected figure of 405 and although the prison has made staffing changes to address this, the Board remains concerned;
• the apparent under-reporting of violent incidents by prisoners (both in relation to other prisoners, and allegations of staff violence) due to a fear of repercussions – the Board is monitoring this closely;
• movement to other prisons across the prison estate (for example to resettlement prisons which prepare prisoners for release) is still limited by lack of spaces; the IMB has been concerned about the difficulty for prisoners who need to move elsewhere to complete the rehabilitation courses required on their sentence plans; and
• the continued lack of capital investment by the Ministry of Justice in the buildings at HMP Dartmoor. This has hampered development in some areas.

Jackie Sharpe, IMB Chair, said: “Overall, we believe prisoners at HMP Dartmoor are treated with dignity and respect but we have some serious concerns about the levels of self-harm, the seeming lack of confidence in the complaints system and the difficulties finding places at other prisons to enable prisoners to complete the programmes required for their release.

The changes to staffing are very welcome and are beginning to have an impact, as is the keyworker scheme, but we want to see a step-change in support for vulnerable prisoners.”

Read the report in full here.