Winchester prison not able to function effectively, says IMB

Reduced staffing levels, greater drug misuse and lack of investment at Her Majesty’s Prison Winchester, have led to an increase in disorder and violence, a decrease in standards of decency and hygiene and means that the prison is not able to function effectively, say independent observers.

In their annual report for the year ending 31st May 2016, the Independent Monitoring Board warn that low staffing levels could present real difficulties in dealing with a major incident. It also means that the needs of prisoners are not being met and that constructive rehabilitation work has been impeded. On a day-to-day level, prisoners are often locked in their cells for more time, which can lead to unrest.

In common with other prisons, Winchester has seen an increase, which the report describes as “worrying”, in the use of drugs, particularly New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), with numerous prisoners being transferred to hospital and requiring officers to accompany and stay with them.

The report paints a picture of a willing and largely dedicated workforce who are hampered from delivering effective rehabilitation through lack of money, poor contracting, and a very high turnover of prisoners: over 20,000 annual arrivals and departures of a prisoner population of about 690, including 40 young offenders. Many of the prisoners display volatile and disruptive behaviour, although the report says this is being managed better than in previous years.

The Board say the fabric of the mainly-Victorian building is in a “considerable state of disrepair” which has affected decency, with unhygienic showers, antiquated toilets and poor laundry facilities. Bad littering has compounded a major rat problem. During the year, the report says, there were many cells out of use due to vandalism or wear and tear, and repairs were delayed because the facilities management contract with Carillion is not working properly.

There has been an increase in activity – jobs and training – but movement between these and the wings has been a problem, and poor delivery of prisoners to medical clinics impacts negatively on health.   The abuse of medication has been vigorously addressed and there has been an increase in support services for those with drug and alcohol problems, including mentors on the wings.

Other concerns the report highlights are: prisoner transport is operated under a contract with Geo Amey, and regular late arrivals of vans from courts have caused disruption for both staff and men; prisoners’ property regularly goes missing during transfers; and the Personal Officer scheme has been branded as worthless.

However, the prison has progressed and improved on many fronts during the year. The IMB has identified several positive areas, including the kitchen which offers a catering qualification and provides three meals a day on a food allowance of £2.01 per man. Other highlights are new commercial contracts and work opportunities, including a waste recycling workshop, support for veterans in custody, resettlement, offender management and chaplaincy.