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'Shocking' failings at Dartmoor prison put public at risk

HMP Dartmoor. Credit: ITV West Country

A report has found "shocking" failings by Dartmoor prison to protect the public from the risk posed by the men it releases.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons found the release of prisoners, a majority of whom were sex offenders, was "unplanned, rushed and poor", while some were released too early.

Out of around 630 prisoners at Dartmoor, 440 were there for sex offences at the time of the inspection in August, making up 70%.

The prison also failed to properly address the behaviours and attitudes of those in denial of their convictions.

Most of those released were also left either homeless or in very temporary accommodation.

UK government to improve safety in Devon prisons

The government has pledged more than £3million. Credit: ITV West Country

The government has pledged more than £3million to improve safety in Devon's prisons.

Prisons in Dartmoor, Exeter and Channings Wood are all set to benefit from the investment.

The money will go towards body-worn cameras, handcuffs and restraints.

The Prison Officers' Association have said the measures are "long overdue".

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Prison suicide rates at 'alarmingly high level'

Suicide rates behind bars remain at an "alarmingly high level" as eight people took their own lives in the West Country alone last year.

Figures show four people took their own lives in Exeter prison, while two more died in Guys Marsh in Dorset. Deaths by suicide were also recorded in Dartmoor and Erlestoke prisons.

Dartmoor Prison Credit: ITV West Country

As the number of prisoners grow annually, and chronic overcrowding and staff cuts hit systems hard, deaths by suicide have risen by 46 per cent in the last three years.

The figure is among a total of 29 people who committed suicide across the country, with a further eight prisoners killed in apparent homicides during 2015 - the highest number in a single year since current recording practices began in 1978.

No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life.

The numbers hide the true extent of misery for prisoners and families – and for staff, who have been given the impossible task of keeping people safe in overcrowded prisons starved of resources.

The question now for the Ministry of Justice is: what to do? This level of deaths, violence and anguish in prisons cannot continue to rise in a civilised society.

We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences.

– Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform
Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA

The Howard League for Penal Reform and Centre for Mental Health, supported by The Monument Trust, are working together on a joint programme on preventing people from dying by suicide in prison.

They saw around 40 per cent of prisoners who died by suicide in 2015 were on remand at the time of their deaths - despite people on remand make up only 15 per cent of the prison population at any one time.

Evidence suggests people held in prison on remand, or have been recalled while on licence, are disproportionately likely to take their own lives.

Protests planned for Tara Hudson's prison move appeal

A rally is planned to coincide with transgender woman Tara Hudson's appeal to be moved to a female prison.

The appeal will be heard at Bristol Crown Court tomorrow (Oct 30) and supporters have arranged to protest outside.

Trans woman Tara Hudson is serving in an all-male prison

Transgender woman Tara Hudson was sent to an all-male prison in Bristol after admitting to assault.

She has lived all her adult life as a woman and has undergone 6 years of reconstructive surgery. Prison authorities made the decision to send her to HMP Bristol as her passport states she's a man.

An online petition calling for Tara to be moved to an alternative facility has reached over 100,000 signatures in 3 days.

A Facebook event calling for an 'emergency protest' outside the Ministry of Justice in London has also been set up.

Staff "lost control" of HMP Guys Marsh

A damning report into Guys Marsh prison in Dorset has found managers and staff "all but lost control of the prison".

An unannounced inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in November 2013 found levels of violence at the jail were very high and the violence was driven by the supply of drugs.

The report found that staff had Credit: ITV News

At a time when we are seeing some overall improvement in the system, HMP Guys Marsh stands out as an establishment of great concern.

Regional managers began to take decisive action during the inspection but real risks remain and turning the prison round will take sustained support from the Prison Service nationally.

The failures of the prison at the time of the inspection posed unacceptable risks to the public, staff and prisoners and this cannot be allowed to continue.

– Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons

Report Findings:

  • levels of violence in the prison were very high and many prisoners were frightened.
  • the violence was driven by the supply of drugs, particularly synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice, which led to debts which were enforced by violence or threats of violence to prisoners or their family outside the prison.
  • there had been a number of medical emergencies associated with the consumption of Spice.
  • gangs operated openly in the prison, although security staff and managers were well focused on these challenges and worked hard to address them.
  • there were frequent ‘incidents at height’ where men climbed onto dangerously high structures in the belief that they would then be taken to the segregation unit where they would be safe.
  • some prisoners self-isolated on the wings, hiding in their cells in squalid conditions with abuse shouted through the door.
  • the high levels of bullying and debt were linked to high levels of self-harm, although care for men at risk was generally good.
  • training provision had deteriorated sharply since the last inspection and the overall effectiveness of learning and skills work was inadequate.
  • despite the fact that Guys Marsh was a training prison, only 16% of prisoners were on education or training courses.
  • the overall management of resettlement was disjointed and inadequate; and
  • offender management was exceptionally poor and arrangements for protecting the public from high-risk prisoners after release were weak.

The inspectors said the prison was short-staffed and overcrowded at the time.

The prison has responded saying it is now stable, operating safely.

Inspectors said the prison was short-staffed and overcrowded at the time. Credit: Gareth Copley/PA Wire

Inspectors visited Guys Marsh during a particularly difficult period. Changes in the population combined with a rise in the illegal trafficking of New Psychoactive drugs was fuelling gang-related violence.

The prison was not out of control and action was being taken in response to these threats - but I accept the situation at the time wasn't acceptable. Since the inspection we have worked with the police to provide extra support to the prison to tackle drug supply and gang activity - including moving perpetrators to more secure gaols as necessary.

I visited Guys Marsh myself last month. It is now stable, operating safely, and providing a consistent and decent regime for prisoners.

Staff have responded to the concerns with professionalism and the new Governor supported by his Regional Manager has a robust plan in place to achieve the sustained improvement required.

– Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service

Exeter prison death will be reviewed

Jason Rose, 24, was found hanged in his prison cell while on remand at Exeter Prison in 2011. An inquest into his death heard he had not been put on suicide watch before he died despite previous attempts to take his own life.

An inquest jury returned a verdict of suicide.

The prison service says the circumstances of Mr Rose's death will be looked at as part of a Government review.

Every death in custody is a tragedy which is why reducing the number of self-inflicted deaths is a priority for the Prison Service.

We have accepted and acted on all the recommendations made by the prison and probation ombudsman following the death of Jason Rose at HMP Exeter.

The circumstances of his death will be looked at as part of the Lord Harris Review into deaths of prisoners aged 18-24 announced by the Government last year.

– A Prison Service spokesperson
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