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Suffolk: Fears raised over HMP Highpoint inspection

09:25 16 January 2013

HIGHPOINT PRISON, STRADISHALL

HIGHPOINT PRISON, STRADISHALL

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AN INSPECTION of a Suffolk prison has revealed fears over gang culture, dirty cells, poor facilities and underemployed prisoners.

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The report on HMP Highpoint also found the flow of drugs and mobile phones into the facility was one of the “challenges” of managing a large prison.

Prison bosses have said they will use recommendations to build on their progress, but critics last night claimed the findings were disappointing and also highlighted “serious flaws” in Government plans to build a super-prison capable of accommodating 2,000 inmates somewhere in the UK.

Released this week, the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick, describes the prison as “generally safe and decent” but lists a series of short-comings.

Mr Hardwick said the inspection team had noticed a “marked discrepancy” between prisoners’ own perceptions of safety in the prison and their observations.

But he suggested inmates’ claims of “significant” and “serious” gang issues were well-founded but not identified by prison managers.

Mr Hardwick also revealed a quarter of prisoners had said it was easy to get drugs in the secluded jail.

He added: “The large perimeter and rural location were a security challenge. The threats posed by illegal drugs and mobile phones were proactively managed. Nevertheless, positive drug testing rates were high and there had been significant finds of both.”

The report stated that reception areas and some first night cells were dirty and accommodation ranged from badly equipped, shared standard cells with poorly screened toilets to others with modern en-suite facilities.

Mr Hardwick said the team, who visited the facility in November 2012, had also been concerned that there were too few activity spaces available with 15% of the 1,300 prisoners unemployed and locked in their cells during working parts of the day. A total of 20% of prisoners, about 260, were said to be underemployed.

He added: “The prison made good use of the activity places it had. Most were good quality and helped prisoners obtain useful qualifications. However, for a training prison, there were simply too few places available.”

The inspector, who said prisoners were “justified” in their dissatisfaction with food, questioned the support of foreign nationals and claimed that facilities and visiting arrangements were “noticeably poor”, added that one of his main concerns was offender management.

Mr Hardwick said although “intentions were good” and there was “decent strategy, structure and policies” this was undermined by lack of contact between high risk prisoners and their supervisors.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform charity, said although the inspectorate report was fairly positive a number of areas were cause for concern.

He added: “It is important that prisoners are engaged in purposeful activity, but too many at Highpoint are underemployed, meaning they are unlikely to develop skills that will be useful after their release. It is disappointing that visiting arrangements and facilities were found to be poor and that foreign nationals received little support.

“Similarly, it is worrying that a serious problem with gang related issues was not acted on by staff.”

Mr Neilson said that the findings were particularly resonant given Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s proposal to build Britain’s biggest prison.

He added: “It is also significant that inspectors found that the flow of drugs and mobile phones into the jail was one of the ‘challenges’ of managing a large prison. This finding only gives weight to our argument that the government’s plan, announced last week, to build a large new prison holding more than 2,000 people is seriously flawed.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said: “The Governor will use the recommendations in the report to build on the progress that has already been made and address concerns raised, particularly around the areas of purposeful activity and offender management.”

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