Mentally-ill inmates still ‘major concern’ at Suffolk prison

CONCERNS over a Suffolk training prison have been highlighted in a report by an independent watchdog – although it says the jail has made improvements.

The latest annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for HMP Highpoint, near Haverhill, detailed a number of problem areas.

The report, written by board chairman Marion Twitchett, said mental health remained one of the board’s “major concerns” and it would continue to press for improvements in access to services.

It said: “During the year [2009] five prisoners were sectioned and moved to more suitable accommodation.

“Although this is down from 10 prisoners in 2008, the board is very concerned that this is still an unacceptable number of mentally-ill men being located in the prison without the specialist mental health care required.”

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It added how the board was concerned prisoners with quite severe mental health problems were being segregated and that those with undetected mental health issues were still coming into the prison.

The board also wanted the issue of foreign nationals held over the end of their sentence to be addressed.

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The report said it remained a “terrible indictment of the justice system” that last year an average of 10 foreign national prisoners were in this position.

Other ongoing concerns included prisoners receiving “intolerable” delays in achieving transfers to be nearer home, and the board has issued an urgent review into the management and safekeeping of prisoners’ property.

However, the report also covered improvements at the prison, which was classified as a level three performing prison during last year. This classification means it is meeting most of its targets.

Extensive building and refurbishment work completed last year included extra classrooms and workshops, extensions to the healthcare unit and a new library and multi-faith room.

There was a significant drop in drugs found in the prison compared to 2008, with steriod and Ecstasy tablets down from 2079 tablets to 88 tablets.

The IMB also acknowledged the “dedication and commitment” of prison staff, particularly during this time of change.

Three members of staff died during the year, and there will be changes to the management structure as Highpoint moves towards its merger with Edmunds Hill prison in 2011.

Susan Feary, board vice-chair, said: “I think as a board as a whole we have still got areas of concern, obviously, but overall from 2008 there has been an improvement.”

She said with the merger “things may get even better”, but added how the board was concerned that the lack of Government cash may impinge on what has been achieved.

Georgina Mear, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said: “We thank the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Highpoint for their report. The IMB will receive a full response in due course.”

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