Suffolk prison praised for maintaining ethos during lockdown

Jack Merritt attended a Learning Together session at Warren Hill, in Hollesley, Suffolk Picture: ARC

Warren Hill prison, in Hollesley - Credit: Archant

An independent watchdog has praised a Suffolk prison for maintaining a positive culture in the face of challenges under lockdown.

An annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Warren Hill, near Woodbridge, said it was impressed by the prison's efforts to mitigate isolation in the early stages of the outbreak.

Unlike at most prisons, inmates were used to being out of their cells for up to 12 hours a day, but the onset of Covid-19 cut down time to exercise, shower and complete domestic tasks to 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, although secure laptops were provided by the Prison Service for digital visits and parole hearings, telephone lines were too old to support the technology. 

The category C jail holds up to 264 adult male inmates next to Hollesley Bay open prison, providing intensive group-based therapy for up to 40 prisoners and a progression regime for those deemed unsuitable for open conditions.

During 12 months, the board found that success at parole hearings continued to be high, with 97 hearings resulting in 50 prisoners being released on licence and 34 moved to open conditions. However, it found recall rates concerningly high, with 47 prisoners recalled from parole - 11 for committing further offences. 

In September, a group of prisoners became the first at Warren Hill to engage in release on temporary licence (ROTL) - accompanying an officer to a café outside the prison gate, visiting Ipswich railway station and opening a bank account. 

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Although nine prisoners had been granted ROTL, activities stalled with the onset of lockdown.

The board urged the governor to expand the scheme as soon as circumstances permit, adding: "The board looks forward to further progress being made when the lockdown eases.

It went on to commend the governor on work carried out in his first full year at Warren Hill, including focusing on equality issues and working to extend and enhance educational provision.

"The board congratulates the Governor and his staff on maintaining and further developing the positive culture of Warren Hill," it said. 

"The board has been impressed by the efforts of the Governor and his staff to maintain the positive ethos of Warren Hill during lockdown and to mitigate the isolation of prisoners at a time when restrictions add to the difficulties experienced by those in prison."

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