Prisons slammed in new report

THREE East Anglian prisons are among the worst performing in the country, according to a new report.The North wing of Highpoint Prison, used for female inmates, Chelmsford Prison and Norwich Prison are all failing to meet some targets or suffering from operational problems.

THREE East Anglian prisons are among the worst performing in the country, according to a new report.

The North wing of Highpoint Prison, used for female inmates, Chelmsford Prison and Norwich Prison are all failing to meet some targets or suffering from operational problems.

In the report, released by the Prison Service yesterday , they were all ranked as level two prisons. The ratings span four grades, with one valued as the worst.

However, the level two prisons do have "essentially a stable, secure environment providing a limited but decent regime", the report says.

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The men's prison at Highpoint South fared better, securing level three status in the tables.

Caroline Kirk, chairman of the Highpoint Board of Visitors, which inspects the prisons regularly, said: "Lack of staff is one of the main problems in the women's prison, but that situation is currently improving, with local recruitment taking place.

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"But although staff are coming in, an awful lot are taking time off sick suffering from stress, which results in the prisoners facing lock-down (when they are confined to their cells).

"The women are also housed in old RAF buildings, which will now be refurbished one at a time, so something is, at last, being done about their accommodation."

The men's prison, at Highpoint South, met the majority of targets set by Martin Narey, the Commissioner for Correctional Services, in deciding the performance ratings. The jail was classed as "delivering a reasonable and decent regime."

Norwich Prison, which is the main remand prison for Suffolk, was also classed as a level two prison. Governor Jerry Knight said: "We are under no illusions. We need to improve. There are two options – one is to sulk, the other is to rise to the challenge."

Chelmsford Prison was slammed in the report for failing to meet performance targets and experiencing "significant" operational difficulties.

With 536 inmates, the category B "local jail" is running at more than 20% above its "certified normal accommodation" of 442 prisoners.

A spokesman for the Prison Service said: "Like a lot of the local prisons, Chelmsford is simply not achieving the targets we've set out for them.

"It suffers from overcrowding, which is something that we see in a lot of places, but it just has to do more."

But Bobby Cummines, chief of ex-offenders' association Unlock, said: "You find that there's a problem of short-staffing and this makes them disgruntled. When they become stressed, it permeates through to the inmates and makes the situation worse."

However, Neil Orr, chairman of Chelmsford Prison's Board of Visitors, said improvements were already taking place.

He said: "I'm confident that by the end of the year we'll achieve three stars."

Both prisons at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, were ranked at level three. The period covered by the league table coincided with the splitting of what had been one prison into two separate establishments and they were judged to be ''delivering a reasonable and decent regime.''

Warren Hill is a closed prison for young people and Hollesley Bay is an open category D prison to prepare inmates for their release into the community.

Stuart Robinson, governor of Warren Hill, said: ''Less than 10% of prisons are in the top level. We are pleased to be in the next level and this reflects on the good reports we have had.

''A range of key performance targets are covered and we have achieved or exceeded most of them. For example there is a target of no escapes, and we have not had an escape.''

Andy Rogers, acting governor of level three-rated Blundeston Prison near Lowestoft, said: "The next step is to move up to the four star rating and the extra plaudits and funding that goes with that. We are hoping to do that by next year.

"It is early days yet as this is the first year the prison service has used this ratings system. It will be interesting to see how the prisons receiving the top rating and more funding will utilise it and how much they get. We are pretty pleased with our result.

"The ratings do show to people in the community that this is a prison we are proud to work in and they should feel proud of as well. It is nice to know a prison around the corner from you is doing well and treating the prisoners properly."

The performance ratings were blasted by the Prison Officers' Association (POA), who say the figures do not paint the whole picture.

"When considering the population explosion in jails and staff shortages, these league tables fly in the face of everything the Prison Service is trying to do," said Steve Gibbon, POA vice-chairman. "We need a massive injection of cash to deal with these problems.

"Publishing these figures will have a devastating affect on morale. We all do our best to protect the public from prisoners and people in custody without adequate staff. To be shown these figures is like receiving a slap in the face."

Level one ranked Brixton, Dartmoor and Holloway came bottom of the table.

The three were "failing to provide secure, ordered or decent regimes" or failing to hit key targets, said Commissioner for Correctional Services Martin Narey.

Five jails were said to be "high performing" - the privately-run Altcourse in Liverpool and the public sector jails Frankland in Durham, Lancaster Farms in Lancaster, Usk/Prescoed in Monmouthshire and Whatton in Nottingham.

Their governors will get extra money to reward their staff or invest in the jail and will be awarded a special plaque.

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