Damning reports have uncovered soaring levels of violence and drug use at two prisons, while new figures reveal a year-on-year rise in call-outs for a specialist prison squad. Inspectors found conditions at HMP Holme House had deteriorated, while a report on HMP Chelmsford said officers’ ability to cope with drugs and disorder had been hampered by cuts. And new figures have revealed that the elite squad of specially trained prison officers had to be deployed to jails in England and Wales 580 times last year.
Spice Widely Available at HMP Holme House
The latest report on HMP Holme House near Stockton found that the jail has a “very serious” problem with drug use. HM Inspectorate of Prisons said a quarter of the 1,200 inmates had developed a problem with drug abuse since arriving at the jail, and violence had risen since the prison was inspected four years ago.
Chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke said: “The prison was not as safe as it had been and at the heart of our concerns was a very serious problem with drugs.
“The threat to the wellbeing of individuals was manifest and rarely have we seen so many serious and repeated incidents of prisoners under the influence of clearly harmful substances.”
Drug tests, medical incidents and raids revealed that new psychoactive substances – previously known as legal highs – were widely available to inmates. The report raised concerns that Spice, which mimics the effects of cannabis, had been identified as contributing to violence among inmates.
Inspectors found that prisoners had experienced difficulties accessing bedding, cleaning products and clean clothes.
Drug Trafficking and Bullying at HMP Chelmsford
A new report warns that HMP Chelmsford is understaffed with rising levels of violence against inmates and officers.
The jail’s Independent Monitoring Board identified drug trafficking, bullying and poor mental health as serious issues.
The report said: “The prison’s ability to control the influx of drugs and other contraband, and to maintain discipline, has been hampered by the shortfall in the number of officers available for much of the reporting period, and the lack of experience of many of the newer officers.”
The report said the jail was merely acting as a “warehouse” for inmates and was failing to help them create positive plans for the future. But inspectors praised officers’ professionalism and said they had “shown great commitment to their work under great pressure”.
Elite Prison Squad Deployed 580 Times
An elite squad of prison officers had to be deployed to jails in England and Wales 580 times last year, a freedom of information request has revealed.
The national tactical response group (NTRG) were called to various incidents, including a riot at HMP Birmingham and hostage situations.
The figures reveal that call-outs to prisons have been increasing year-on-year. The Prison Officers Association said the figures showed a system struggling to maintain security following a series of budget cuts, while Labour said they illustrated how counterproductive the government’s cuts to the prison service have been.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: “This dangerous situation is likely to go from bad to worse given that a quarter of the prisons that the MoJ itself rates as being of concern have experienced a further cut in prison officer numbers over the past year.”
However, the Ministry of Justice denied that the figures revealed an epidemic of violence in the prison system.
“We have specially trained teams that provide support to prisons on a range of incidents – from offenders climbing onto an internal roof to a large-scale disturbance,” said an MoJ spokesperson.
“The majority of callouts are for non-violent incidents when the officers only attend as a precaution or when the situation was already resolved by prison staff.”