Winchester Prison is failing to tackle high levels of violence, report finds

The prison must make improvements according to the latest report.

Winchester Prison is failing to tackle high levels of violence and has had the highest number of assaults on staff this year, compared to other prisons, a new report says.

The report by the Independent Monitoring Boards shows that, for much of the year (June 2020-May 2021), HMP Winchester has been the highest in its comparable group for assaults on staff and the second highest for prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.

Inspectors found that Covid-19 has 'undoubtedly' impacted efforts to address the situation, but highlighted significant backlog in staff training and the availability of drugs and contraband to be frustrating improvement efforts.

They also found that continued impact amongst new arrivals with mental health issues and a history of self harm exacerbates the strain on safety, creating the 'underlying volatile atmosphere' on the main wings.

The report criticised a lack of a facility appropriate to the housing of prisoners with very challenging behaviour.

On more than one occasion prisoners and/or CSU staff have suffered physical harm due to the accommodation issues.

However despite improvements being made to some of the physical conditions to which prisoners live in, there have been incidents of pieces of the building collapsing, and prisoners damaging the 'substandard walls and windows' of their cells.

The report condemns the condition of the prison saying that:

"It cannot be said that the fundamental fabric of the prison creates a safe or progressive environment."

According to the report, conditions in which inmates are living could not be described as 'humane', as 64% of prisoners surveyed spent only 45 minutes outside of their cell for just three days a week.

HMP Winchester was previously placed in special measures Credit: PA

However inspectors said that, given the unprecedented pressure thus created, the staff at HMP Winchester have treated prisoners as humanely and fairly as circumstances have allowed, bearing in mind the stress they have been experiencing in their own lives.

The report also gave credit to how the prison responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that it should be 'commended for its success' in preventing internally generated infections.

A Prison Service spokesperson said:

“While the Board praised the professional way the prison was run during a uniquely difficult year, the need for further strong action has been recognised.

“Violence among prisoners has fallen significantly since the time covered by this report, and we are tackling assaults on staff by a small minority of prisoners with better training which is already having an impact.”

The Ministry of Justice issued the following guidance:

  •  Prisoner on prisoner assaults fell by 14% last year. This was slower than at comparator prisons, but the IMB’s analysis shows comparator prisons also started from a higher baseline.

  • No major disturbances took place last year at the prison, thanks to the management’s professionalism and hard work.

  • The majority of assaults on staff involved four “particularly hostile and violent prisoners”, the IMB said. Training has been improved to reduce the use of force needed in managing these prisoners.

  • Mental health management in the prison has improved, with fewer prisoners requiring ACCTs in the last year, when there were also no self-inflicted deaths.

  • A photocopier has been ordered, and is expected to arrive soon. It is not the only measure used to stop the flow of drugs – sniffer dogs and other intelligence measures are used to identify potential contraband.

  • Refurbishment to the fabric of the building is ongoing.