“Serious Concerns” at Winchester prison

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HMP Winchester “Serious Concerns” Pic Chris Talbot

A leading penal reform charity has described an independent report into conditions at Winchester Prison as “exceptionally disturbing”.

Responding to the HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Winchester Prison published today (20 March), Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

“It is exceptionally disturbing to see a prison with a previously good reputation collapse to such lows. The damning report into this overcrowded and dangerous prison is yet another symptom of our overstretched and wasteful justice system.”

The report which can be found here described overcrowded conditions with bullying by inmates commonplace.

Francs Crook added:

“This is a prison where the people it held didn’t feel safe and the vulnerable were abused, where drugs were easily available but laundry facilities were not. Graffiti was found throughout, including sexual images, but 95 per cent of prisoners struggled to get on programmes to help them turn their backs on crime.

“Perhaps most shocking was the discovery of two disabled prisoners crammed into a single-person Victorian cell for all but thirty minutes each day. The landing bathroom wasn’t adapted to their use, so they hadn’t showered in months..Winchester holds 706 prisoners but only has room for 499.

We welcome the fact that a new governor has been appointed and look forward to working with them to help resolve these serious problems.”

Nick Hardwick the Chief Inspector of Prisons said he had ‘serious concerns’ regarding the Victorian prison.

Although previous inspections had found the prison working reasonably well, the last inspection in October 2012 found conditions at the prison had “deteriorated sharply”.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • more than half of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some time;
  • the prison did not have a full picture of the nature or extent of violent incidents and there was insufficient action to address the behaviour of the perpetrators or support the victims;
  • the crucial first 24 hours of a prisoner’s time in Winchester were badly managed;
  • inspectors witnessed foul abuse directed at vulnerable prisoners in their exercise yard, processes for locating prisoners on the vulnerable prisoner wing were unclear and vulnerable prisoners had very poor access to activities;
  • the prison had recently taken action to combat the supply of drugs in the prison, but one third of prisoners said drugs were easily available and one in 10 said they had developed a drug problem in the jail;
  • the day-to-day experience of many prisoners was poor, with insufficient activity places for the population and some places underused;
  • prisoners were issued with insufficient and poor quality prison clothing and bedding;
  • diversity and equality issues were neglected and health care provision was weak in some areas;
  • two older, severely disabled men shared a small cell and spent 23.5 hours a day in it;
  • the range and quality of work and training places were insufficient

On the positive side Inspectors found:

  • the experience of prisoners on the West Hill part of the prison site was much better;
  • throughout the prison, arrangements for supporting prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm were reasonable (one suicide during 2012)
  • use of force was low;
  • relationships in the segregation unit were satisfactory;
  • a new senior manager had conducted a useful analysis of prisoners’ learning and training needs and was making a good start on delivering these;
  • education was supported by some very valuable volunteers from the local community; and
  • Practical resettlement support was reasonable, visits provision was good and there was good support for armed services veterans.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Until shortly before the inspection, HMP Winchester was neglected and drifting. There had been pockets of good practice and although many staff did their best, their efforts were often haphazard, inconsistent and badly coordinated. However, a new governor was appointed shortly before this inspection. The new leadership was aware of many of the problems and we saw early signs of a determined effort to tackle them. But the prison is just at the start of the process of putting things right again, and it will be a long, hard task to do so. We hope the recommendations in this report will assist that process.”

Frances Crook of the Howard League commented:

“We welcome the fact that a new governor has been appointed and look forward to working with them to help resolve these serious problems.”