Major concern over marked increase in violence at HMP Winchester, inspectors say

Violence has “markedly increased” and safety remains a “major concern” at a prison which was the focus of a television documentary, according to inspectors.

High levels of violence, self-harm and suicides were discovered at HMP Winchester, a report said.

The inspection in June and July last year was “disappointing” and there had been a “significant deterioration” since 2016 which meant the Hampshire jail was “not safe enough”, according to chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke.

Built in 1846, the Victorian prison, which can hold 685 inmates, was put in special measures over a year ago after serious concerns were raised about the conditions – and extra resources are still being provided.

In August last year, 150 inmates were moved out of the jail and transferred to other prisons after a riot erupted and police were called in to tackle the incident.

Similar warnings were made in a report published a month later by the prison’s independent monitoring board – made up of volunteers appointed to scrutinise conditions.

At that time, the prison was featuring on the Channel 4 documentary Crime And Punishment, which shone a light on the problems beyond its walls.

Mr Clarke said: “(Violence) had increased markedly, particularly against staff”, although most incidents were not seen as serious.

Use of force by staff had risen, and more than half of the prisoners said it was easy to get drugs into the building.

Self-harm had doubled since 2016, leading to levels higher than any other local prison in the country – and the “lack of improvement in work to reduce self-harm remained a significant concern for inspectors”, the report said.

Seven prisoners had taken their own lives since the last inspection, three in the previous 12 months, but most prisoners felt they could turn to staff for help, it added.

The category C resettlement unit, which is also part of the prison, rated better for safety and inspectors found some improvements had been made but work, training and education offered to inmates was poor on both sites.

Mr Clarke said: “There (is) a lot still to do at Winchester.

“Safety was a priority, but improvements here need to be linked to the introduction of a coherent and deliverable regime that would get prisoners out of their cells and using their time purposefully.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the conditions at the jail were “surely a matter that should be of direct personal concern to the justice secretary in a government that plans to send more people to prison for longer.

“The urgent problem at Winchester, as at so many prisons like it, is not too few staff but instead too many prisoners. That’s not a problem any governor can solve.”

Phil Copple, a director general at the Prison and Probation Service, said: “There is still much to do at HMP Winchester, but I know the governor and his staff have been working hard to improve safety and I am pleased inspectors have recognised their dedication to achieving that.

“Everybody at the prison has been focused on delivering further improvement.

“Since the inspection, prisoners who are new to custody are receiving additional support, repair and improvement work is ongoing and the most violent and high-risk prisoners are being managed better.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Chris Ison / PA Wire.

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