Improvements at HMP Northumberland, but issues still persist

HMP Northumberland
HMP Northumberland

Improvements have been made at HMP Northumberland, but the use of drugs is still a concern, while more needs to be done to prepare prisoners for release, inspectors have said.

The findings were published today in the Independent Monitoring Board’s (IMB) 2017 report for the Acklington-based Category-C jail, which has been run by private company, Sodexo Justice Services, since December 2013.

The Board says that it welcomes the ‘structured approach’ adopted by the prison in tackling the use of illegal substances and the consequences for violence and self-harm.

The report states that ‘the Board is pleased to note efforts to reduce violence are now being made through a structured plan’.

It adds that ‘the Board is content that use of force is managed and recorded well, however, it is concerning that there was a 25 per cent increase in incidents in 2017 compared with 2016. The overwhelming majority of cases were due to non-compliance.’

In relation to drugs, the report states: ‘Like most prisons, HMP Northumberland faces a rise in use of illegal substances and the consequent potential for violence.

‘To those unfamiliar with the prison, it may appear that these can easily be dealt with, but regular visitors appreciate the scale of the attempts deliberately to undermine security and safety’.

The Board says that the prison is addressing drugs issues, including the demand for drugs from prisoners who are desperate, disaffected or distressed; the supply of drugs through contacts and visitors, sometimes by methods which are hard to detect; the detection of the presence of drugs, other illegal substances, and other banned items; and the treatment of those with addictions and dependence.

But the report adds: ‘The Board has seen some notable individual achievements as a result of effective cooperation between operational, substance misuse and healthcare teams in 2017, so it is disappointing that their efforts have yet to result in a sustained improvement in the overall level of substance misuse measured by random testing.

‘The number of emergency escorts to outside hospital that result from new psychoactive substances (NPS) has reduced compared to the previous year, but the health, security and safety risks associated with NPS remain a concern to the Board, the establishment and to many prisoners.’

Away from drugs and safety, the main judgements from the Board are:

○ The Board is satisfied that prison staff did not knowingly treat anyone unfairly or inhumanely;

○ There are occasional instances where the time taken to relocate prisoners with complex needs is too long; this is a shortcoming of the whole system, however well the individual is cared for locally;

○ Preparing prisoners for release is improving: HMP Northumberland is well-advanced in working with Community Rehabilitation Companies and Through the Gate agencies. But targets for preparations immediately prior to release are not always met and housing is a particular issue. The Board states that greater continuity through sentence planning, relevant education and work are essential features of successful preparation;

○ The impact of changes in the configuration of prisons in Northumberland is increasing the pressure on some services locally, particularly health, reception support and sentence planning;

In the report, the Board said that it welcomed the following things:

○ The reintroduction of Release on Temporary Licence;

○ The opening of Community Links House Block offering greater freedoms for men nearing the end of their sentences;

○ The continued joint working with NEPACS to support prisoners and their families;

○ The continued level of investment in the fabric of the prison and the emphasis on decency in daily life, including personal well-being;

○ The efforts to promote inclusiveness.

However, one of the things which the Board raised concerns about was that while the number and quality of work opportunities have continued to improve for inmates, there are still not enough work opportunities for all prisoners.

Sodexo has been approached for comment about the findings of the Board.