‘Inmates treat jail like holiday camp’ – ex-prisoner’s claims on life at open prison
A former inmate has lifted the lid on life inside Hollesley Bay – criticising an “astonishing” lack of security, and claiming some prisoners treat the open prison like a “holiday camp”.
Cocaine, MDMA and alcohol are openly consumed on “chronically understaffed” units – with a growing number of people becoming hooked on Spice, the synthetic “zombie” cannabis, the ex-prisoner said.
Some inmates treat the jail like a business opportunity, the man who was released this year added, using phones bought during release trips to Ipswich to further their own criminal careers.
Some locals have dubbed the prison “Holiday Bay,” but Ministry of Justice chiefs said independent inspection reports over many years have consistently praised staff for creating a safe and rehabilitative prison.
A prison service spokesman added: “Extra CCTV, specialist searches and increased patrols are clamping down on drugs and offenders are fully risk assessed before being allowed out in the community.
“Absconds have also fallen at Hollesley Bay by two-thirds in the last decade.”
The most recent Government inspection at the category ‘D’ prison warned of a “disappointing increase” in the use of drugs in late 2018.
The whistleblower raised fears that people using drugs inside are “getting away with it” – and claimed that because CCTV only existed in one of the jail’s units until recently, prisoners were able to flush paraphernalia away, either down the toilet or through their system before scheduled checks.
The man’s claims come as the sixth prisoner to escape the jail this year – Saun Moorhouse, convicted of robbery offences – went missing last week, with the public warned not to approach him.
Over the past decade, more than 100 inmates have absconded from Hollesley Bay - the equivalent of 10 prisoners going missing every year.
But rates of prisoners absconding have fallen in recent years, from 25 in 1999 to 17 in 2009 and six last year – although there are differences in how police and the MOJ record absconders, with Suffolk Constabulary reporting nine people missing from the jail in 2019 compared with the government’s six.
Andrew Neilson, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said open prisons like Hollesley Bay are important to people inmates rehabilitate.
“People are given opportunities to take up employment or education during the day but returning to prison at night,” he said.
“Without that, people in prison could spend years behind bars, then be ejected to the streets without any preparation – which would lead to more offending and more victims of crime.”
Soon, sex offenders will be housed at the prison – a decision which has sparked concern in the community, and is likely to place fresh scrutiny on security measures at the jail in future.
‘I didn’t feel safe’
When he arrived from a higher security prison, the inmate said he was shocked at Hollesley Bay’s “lax” security – claiming that anyone can smuggle drugs or phones in, particularly at night.
He claimed the only residential unit with internal CCTV was Blything, the induction wing – with a “scattering” of external cameras around the gatehouse and reception areas.
With regard to the jail’s drug problems, he added: “People were openly dealing drugs on the wing. They were having fights among themselves; it just didn’t seem safe.
“As a prisoner discovers that it’s easy to beat the system at Hollesley Bay, their behaviour deteriorates to a point where some deliberately taunt staff by blatantly using smartphones or trading drugs openly on the landings.
“These same prisoners are using their free prison minibus trips into Ipswich as nothing more than fortnightly excursions to stock up on contraband which can be smuggled back into the prison, unchecked.”
The former inmate also claims some prisoners came back to the jail boasting that they had met with prostitutes while out on temporary leave.
This newspaper has been unable to verify the above claim independently.
MoJ chiefs said an independent inspection carried out last year acknowledged levels of violence were low, with few assaults and fights.
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Only 7% of respondents to the latest Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons (HMIP) survey said they felt unsafe.
They also said the prison has a comprehensive drug reduction strategy in place, adding that an increase in targeted searches had been successful in finding illicit items.
The whistleblower claimed that one incident, for him, summed up why some inmates regard open prison conditions as a holiday camp.
“One evening, the entire landing stunk with fumes of “puff”, coming from under the door of one cell,” he said.
“When the night patrol came around, he opened the cell door and advised: ‘You need to get that window wide open and spray an air freshener in here - there’s an inspection tomorrow, mate’.
“As it stands, using D-cat establishments for short-term prisoners is really just providing gym/holiday camp facilities for those who have chosen crime as a lifestyle and are still pursuing their crimes, via iPhones, while still semi-incarcerated.”
Security ‘never a priority’
Faith Spear, who rose to prominence after she was dismissed as chairman of Hollesley Bay’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for highlighting what she saw as failings in the system, said there must come a point when “enough is enough”.
She said: “I always thought (security) was lax, even when I worked there, about four years ago now.
“I remember when I was monitoring, I went on to one unit, there was a chap stood in the doorway on a phone.
“There’s a main road that runs through the prison. Anyone can just walk down there, a car could just drop something off, it’s a main road - there’s no CCTV on there. Security was never a priority.
“The units back on to the countryside, it’s a huge site. There is so little security at night, there’s no cameras up there.”
The most recent HMIP inspection, carried out in 2018, found the application of security at the jail was proportionate.
When inmates are out on temporary leave, they should have a supervisor and prison officials are meant to go to their place of work to carry out checks, Ms Spear added.
“They don’t do that very often - I don’t think they’ve got the staff to do that. To be honest, they don’t really know what the prisoners are doing when released on temporary licence,” she said.
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In response, the MOJ said offenders were subject to robust risk-assessments before they were granted release on temporary licence.
Many of the absconders from Hollesley Bay are on indeterminate sentences, known as IPPs, the whistleblower added. As of December 2018, there were 20 such prisoners at the jail.
Designed for offenders posing a serious threat to the public, IPPs were abolished in 2012 – but there are still inmates imprisoned under IPP sentences with no set release date or sentence length.
Scott Chandler, who had a history of threatening to kill people, was returned to a closed prison earlier this month after walking out of Hollesley Bay for a second time.
The 48-year-old was serving an indeterminate sentence, with prosecutor Adam Norris telling Ipswich Crown Court that Chandler’s most recent disappearance on May 8 was an “act of self-sabotage”.
Judge Goodin added: “The most obvious explanation seems to be that you wanted to get out of Hollesley Bay.”
MORE: Death threat prisoner’s second walk-out an ‘act of self-sabotage’
Ms Spear, now a justice campaigner, said some absconders – particularly those on IPPs – give up hope, while some are just desperate to see their families.
But Mr Neilson, of the Howard League, said absconding was relatively rare, because it was not in most inmates’ interest to endanger their chances of parole.
The prison service said it works closely with the police to recapture absconders quickly and when they are caught, they face a return to tougher, closed prison conditions.
There is a complaints system for prisoners within the jail and inmates can also raise concerns independently, such as to the Independent Monitoring Board.
‘Reassurance needed’ over arrival of sex offenders
Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, said he needed to be reassured that public safety will not be compromised when sex offenders arrive at the prison – and that it will not place extra demand on Suffolk Constabulary.
It has now been almost two years since a decision was made to house sex offenders at Hollesley Bay – with parish council officials confirming in February this year that the new inmates may arrive later this year, but no earlier than the Autumn.
Ms Spear said: “The MoJ needs to reassure the locals, that there’s going to be no problem, and that they are going to be risk assessed properly before they come.”
The 2018 inspection report highlighted that many offenders arriving at Hollesley were not being fully risk assessed, adding: “public protection measures were very weak”.
Ms Spear added: “If they can’t do that with sentences of other natures, of course people are going to be concerned.”
The MoJ is yet to shed more light on when sex offenders are due to be housed at Hollesley Bay.
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