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Prisoners locked up with too little to do, inspectors say

A general view inside HMP Brixton (Dan Kitwood/PA)
A general view inside HMP Brixton (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Inmates at two resettlement prisons in England and Wales are locked up for more than 22 hours a day with too little to do, inspectors have found.

Unannounced inspections at Brixton and The Mount prisons in March found that most of  the 1,716 inmates at both sites were locked up for 22 hours a day and more on weekends.

Reports from the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons of the two category C prisons show they were failing to provide the resettlement and training functions crucial to inmates’ rehabilitation.

Category C prisons  are training and resettlement jails that hold prisoners who are considered to be a low escape risk but can not be trusted in open conditions,

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said the findings “raise serious questions” about the lack of importance that prisons are giving to providing inmates with genuinely purposeful ways to spend their time”.

Prison Officers Association (POA) warning
Inside HMP Brixton (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Prisons including Brixton, The Mount and also Rochester, were each given the lowest “poor” rating for purposeful activity after inmates said they spent 22 hours or more a day locked up in their cells.

The picture was even worse at weekends, the inspectors found.

Mr Taylor said in a blog post: “In these jails we found delays in getting prisoners back into education, training and work, often created by too few activity spaces, poor allocation processes, staff shortages and a tentative approach to reopening the regime.”

Other category C prison inspections showed a delay in returning to a full regime once pandemic restrictions had eased, including at HMP Rochester where an inmate commented “they are taking advantage of Covid to make it easier for staff.”

More than a third of all those in custody in England and Wales are held in Category C prisons, which, according to the Prison Service, should be providing prisoners with “the opportunity to develop their own skills so they can find work and resettle back into the community on release”.

Delays were found in getting prisoners back into education, training and work, often caused by too few activity spaces, poor allocation processes, staff shortages and a tentative approach to reopening the regime.

Mr Taylor said it was “particularly depressing” to see workshops and classrooms that should have been thriving, either empty or with just a handful of prisoners taking part in activities.

Recommendations made regarding concerns about respect, purposeful activity, rehabilitation and release planning  at Brixton Prison, in south London, which were raised at the last inspection in 2019 before the pandemic struck had not been achieved.

Safety outcome for prisoners had previously been described as “reasonably good” but they were now said to be “not sufficiently good”.

The inspectors found that 24% of prisoners in survey said that they currently felt unsafe and the dangerous environment had led some Brixton prisoners to isolate themselves out of fear.

Recorded levels of violence against staff, which had increased since the last inspection, were high and likely to be caused by prisoners’ frustrations with an inability to resolve day-to-day problems, the report said.

The number of recorded assaults on prisoners had decreased.

Overcrowding compounded the issue of lack of time out of the cell for Brixton prisoners.

Too many prisoners shared dirty, graffitied, and poorly equipped cells designed for one, and it was often difficult for prisoners to access basics, such as toilet roll, clean bedding, and clothing.

But Brixton prisoners said the quality of the food was excellent, and many inmates said it was the most positive part of life at the prison.

Incident at The Mount prison
The Mount Prison near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Mount, near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, was judged to be insufficiently good in the area of respect.

Safety at The Mount was rated as mostly good.

Ofsted rated the overall education provision at The Mount and Brixton and as “inadequate”.

It was found that both prisons offered too few opportunities to gain accredited qualifications, while poor attendance and lateness blows, often due to delayed unlocks, dealt a blow to a prisoners’ ability to learn.

Mr Taylor added: “It costs taxpayers approximately £45,000 to keep someone in prison for a year.

“It is in all our interests that our prisons, particularly category C jails, invest more effort in giving prisoners the skills to resettle successfully when they are released.”