Winchester jail has 'dungeon-like' facility with government's 'shameful' delay stopping rebuild

PRISONERS are still being held in an ‘inhumane’ and ‘dungeon-like’ facility after an ‘outrageous and shameful’ delay by government to fund a new building, inspectors have said.

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 7:00 am

Independent monitors who visited HMP Winchester made the comments in a report released today where they also said staff face a ‘Herculean task’ in treating prisoners well at a building that is now ‘obsolete’.

The building is so bad that inmates were able to break out of their cells in August last year by chipping away at bricks. Improvements had been made but one prisoner created a hole in the ceiling of his cell to try and escape to the shower area in May this year.

The report also points out ‘excessive’ levels of self-harm at the jail - and that has some of the worst levels of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.

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The prison’s segregation unit, where up to seven of the most difficult inmates are held, was due for an upgrade after the Independent Monitoring Board for HMP/YOI Winchster raised concerns in previous reports.

Work was due to start in late 2019. A minister then previously said work would start on a new build in May but in truth the project remains unfunded in 2020/21.

Today the report said: ‘This repeated delay is outrageous and shameful, permanently causing major operational and safety difficulties for the Governor and staff, which have multiplied with the extra pressure of Covid-19 restrictions.

‘The failure to deliver this is a clear dereliction of duty of the Department of Justice’s obligation to ensure the care and wellbeing of the prisoners committed to its care.’

Jailers are doing their best to treat inmates ‘humanely and fairly’ but the ‘obsolete nature’ of the wider building ‘prevents this from being achieved,’ the report said.

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It added: ‘The varied and challenging population, huge turnover, overcrowded conditions, improving but still high levels of self-harm, drug abuse, drug debt, gang rivalries and violence all contribute to making such an objective a Herculean task.’

Angus Somerville, IMB Winchester chair, said progress in most areas was ‘sustained’ but the delay to the segregation unit was a ‘disgrace’.

He added: ‘Regrettably, the necessary restrictions imposed by Covid-19 have reversed the previous improvements to the daily regime, as staff balanced prisoners’ health and humane needs.

‘While the energetic leadership of senior staff has had a positive impact on the culture at Winchester, the prison remains volatile, and continued effort will be needed to improve performance still further and provide the safe, secure and rehabilitative environment the prisoners require.’

There was a rate of 1,365 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 prisoners in 2019/20 - down by around 500.

In two weeks in May, a single prisoner was responsible for five violent incidents - including throwing excrement in a guard’s face.

The prison was put in special measures in January 2018 and is operating with a capacity of 500 inmates. It was taken out of special measures in mid-October last year.

A site survey for a replacement segregation unit is due this month, the Ministry of Justice said.

Covid-19 has not stopped drugs getting into jail

VISITS to HMP Winchester being stopped in the pandemic 'stopped one avenue' of drugs getting into the jail.

But during lockdown more people were using cannabis on the wings, and more drug parcels were thrown over the walls.

Letters soaked in psychoactive substances have been intercepted.

Smugglers are disguising the mail as legal letters, which can only be opened by guards in certain circumstances.

Drug testing, normally done 25 times in a month, has stopped during Covid-19.

The IMB report said: ‘The provision of new drug detecting equipment has proved very effective, and relevant staff continue to be trained.

‘Another system is due to be installed in reception which will enable identification of prisoners being recalled from licence, who are acting as drug carriers.

‘Drug-sniffing dogs are used in the correspondence office and visits centre when available.

‘Regrettably, it is likely that some drugs arrive via corrupt members of staff.

‘The board is impressed with the quality of the anti-drug briefings given by prisoners who work as induction orderlies.’

A Prison Service spokesman said: ‘Inspectors praised the progress made at HMP Winchester in the past year, highlighting improving conditions and falling levels of violence and self-harm.

‘A new X-ray scanner is preventing drugs from entering, repairs to the jail are now being completed quicker and every prisoner has dedicated support from a member of staff. We know there is more to do and will continue to strive for further improvement.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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