Portland prison had a challenging year

The prison had a challenging year. The Governor, Senior Management Team and staff are commended in the Report for their determination to provide a safe and decent regime for the prisoners in the face of spells of unrest and a number of disruptive incidents. These difficulties are largely caused by problems outside the prison’s control:- the prisoner population mix in HMP/YOI Portland; the staffing level being too low; and the continuing influx of drugs (particularly NPS or ‘new psychoactive substances’, known as spice). Staff and management work hard and with dedication to safeguard prisoners under enormous challenges and against a backdrop of rising violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths in the prison estate nationwide. The report particularly commends the staff of the Segregation Unit (and adjudicating governors), Reception, First Night/Induction wing, and Safer Custody Team.

The prison has a high percentage of prisoners considered higher risk. There are a lot of short-term prisoners, with less than six months remaining of their sentences, which makes it difficult to allocatework, education or activity. High numbers have been through the ‘care’ system, have learning difficulties, or have mental health or behavioural disorders: the Board believes priority should be given at a national level to developing alternative provision for many of these prisoners, for whom prison is not a suitable environment.

In terms of staffing, there is absolutely no give in a system which requires a lot of give. Staff being off sick or required for unexpected duties and emergencies frequently result in cancellations of activities, education etc., which leave too many prisoners behind their doors for too long. This was reported in a survey in November (‘Measuring the Quality of Prison Life’) as being the main negative of life at HMP/YOI Portland; it leads in turn to unrest, high self-harm levels, poor communication and low staff morale, and has a detrimental effect on education and rehabilitation. Many specific issues affected by the staffing levels are enumerated in the report.

NPS/spice continues to be a huge challenge to the prison. A lot of parcels thrown over the walls,containing NPS in quantities of significant value and also mobile phones, have been intercepted but enough still gets through, by this and other methods, to seriously destabilise life in the prison. It leads to trading, criminal networking and gang activity; debt, violence and bullying; and the pressurising of prisoners’ families. Vulnerable prisoners are particularly at risk. In the user it causes violence and unpredictable, unconstrained behaviour, as well as being extremely hazardous: staff at all levels have had to intervene to help prisoners in immediate physical danger. It is also a risk to  prison staff. Although HMP/YOI Portland is, according to prison service figures, the safest YOI in the South West and the second safest prison, the MQPL survey shows that prisoners do fear for their safety and feel pressured by the drug culture.