HMP Five Wells: Report highlights food shortages and drug culture at £253m 'super prison'

HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.
HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. Credit: PA

A £253m jail dubbed the first "super-prison" in the country has been heavily criticised in a damning report that highlighted food shortages and the availability of drugs on wings.

Inspectors from the Independent Monitoring Board also raised concerns about a lack of experience among staff at HMP Five Wells which only opened in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, in March last year.

The report said complaints had been made by prisoners about the "range of choices for food", with inmates "occasionally going without meals" due to a shortage of deliveries.

The board praised the overall standard of the wing accommodation, but said that the "number and range of illicit items found in the prison" was a big concern, with drugs "available on most houseblocks" - including illegal substances being offered to those in the drug recovery unit.

Homemade alcohol, as well as mobile phones and SIM cards were also discovered on site, but the implementation of additional security measures had helped to reduce the number of drone sightings, said inspectors.

Inmates are able to play table tennis at the prison. Credit: PA

Other concerns highlighted in the report include:

  • Serious concerns about staff safety, particularly in the education department;

  • Limited work opportunities for prisoners;

  • Inmates regularly seen vaping outside their cells, which staff fail to challenge;

  • A lack of appropriately qualified staff and overall shortage of staff caused by recruitment difficulties.

However, the report did also reference some positives from the prison's first year in operation, including the support provided for families and the amount of time prisoners are allowed to be out of their cells on a daily basis.

The prison was opened by then Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab. Credit: PA

“This report recognises some of the really good work carried out by staff and prisoners at Five Wells since opening, as well as acknowledging the considerable challenges that come with opening a new prison," Will Styles, Director at HMP Five Wells, told ITV News Anglia.

“The IMB (Independent Monitoring Board) highlights the difficulties we face recruiting and retaining staff in a very competitive employment market. We have an active recruitment campaign and are enhancing our work and career development opportunities to make HMP Five Wells one of the best employers in Northants.” 

HMP Five Wells, which holds around 1,680 prisoners, is run by private firm G4S.

The Category C facility does not have bars on its windows and cells are called rooms.

Inmates are also able to play table tennis and snooker, leading to some accusations that the prison is a "soft touch."

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