New report calls for Highpoint split

FEMALE inmates at Highpoint Prison are being kept in inadequate and unsafe buildings and face a high risk of being bullied or attacked, a new report has revealed.

FEMALE inmates at Highpoint Prison are being kept in inadequate and unsafe buildings and face a high risk of being bullied or attacked, a new report has revealed.

The problems have been highlighted by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, who has compiled contrasting reports on the men's and women's sections of the Suffolk jail, near Haverhill.

Both sections of the prison are facing problems with staff shortages, increased prisoner numbers, drug abuse and unsuitable conditions.

But the latest report found that while Highpoint South, the men's prison, is improving, the women's section, Highpoint North, has fundamental problems.

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The inspector has now ruled the prisons must be completely separated, given different names and identities and managed independently from each other in order to get both establishments running efficiently.

In her report Ms Owers said: "Highpoint North faces three fundamental problems: inadequate and sometimes unsafe buildings, significant staff shortages and an uncertainty about the prison's identity and future."

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She added despite the commitment of senior managers and staff to create as safe and decent environment as possible, the three H-shaped former RAF station buildings that house the majority of the 216 female prisoners are inadequate.

The report highlights "unsuitable and unsafe units", with night staff unable to gain access without summoning assistance.

"This led to clear dangers of self-harm and bullying and there was evidence of assaults by women prisoners at night," it adds.

In recent years between four and five million pounds has been spent improving Highpoint North.

All cells at the prison are fitted with wardrobes, desks and televisions and in 2001 two new 40-bed units, known as North 5 and 6, for well-behaved prisoners and those undergoing drug therapy were opened.

Another similar 80-room unit, North 7, is due to open soon. These new units are designed to make self-harming more difficult and provide shower and toilet facilities within the single-bed cells, reducing the risks of bullying and attacks.

The older blocks are also to undergo major refurbishment and be installed with CCTV to deter bad behaviour during the night.

Reflecting on the findings of the report, Prison Service area manager Niall Clifford said: "There is nothing here to surprise or shock. The shortcomings at Highpoint are well known to us.

"This is nothing we didn't know already and we are trying to do something about the problems. All these things take time and we are moving in the right direction."

Meanwhile, although Highpoint South has many obstacles to overcome it has made good progress in recent years with levels of violence and drug abuse at an all-time low.

In her inspection report Ms Owers said relations between prisoners and staff was positive and "Highpoint South was an improving prison."

Despite the strides it has made since the last inspection report in 1998 the men's prison needs to make further improvement in certain areas.

At the time of the report only 350 of the 600 male prisoners had meaningful work and no training was available in the workshops or PE departments and many prisoners were locked-up all day.

Ms Owers said: "The prison needs to accelerate the pace of change, to ensure that it can provide a safe and positive training environment."

Since the report was compiled prisoner numbers have risen to 655 and there are now 545 jobs or educational placements available. Another 80 prisoners are soon to be allocated to Highpoint and moves are in place to ensure more than 90% of the inmate population will be employed by the end of the year.

Educational facilities are currently being improved and every prisoner has his educational needs assessed individually.

Two new mobile temporary units, known as south 6 and 7, catering for 80 prisoners have also recently been opened. The purpose of these units is to reward the most trusted and well-behaved prisoners with more responsibility and freedom.

Only prisoners with excellent behaviour records can be moved from the more regimental wings to the temporary units. Here prisoners have keys to their doors, have no bars at the windows and are out of their cells from 8am to 11pm at night.

Prison governor Roger Haley said although he recognised there was a long way to go he was encouraged by the report.

"Over the last few years we have made major improvements. This prison used to have a notorious reputation for violence and drug problems. Now there is very little violence and positive drug tests have fallen from 28% to 8% in the past six months. We have a long way to go but the signs are that we are winning.

"My aim is to have every prisoner leave here better equipped to avoid a life of crime when they leave."

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