THE presence of synthetic drugs like Black Mamba and Spice have made prisons ‘quite terrifying places to be’ says Rodger Lawrence, chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Hewell.
Mr Lawrence, speaking on the release of the latest IMB report on the Category B prison, said life for inmates was now much more dangerous than ten years ago.
“There have always been hierarchies in prisons and bullying, but you knew who you your were dealing with, the ones you left alone, the ones you chatted to and who wouldn’t be offended at a joke and the ones who were polite and harmless,” he said.
“Now with these drugs that polite and seemingly harmless person might just stab you, you just don’t know.”
He added the poor environment at HMP Hewell, boredom, access to drugs, tobacco and mobile telephones was also leading to debt and the fear of other prisoners demanding repayment.
Overall the IMB said the prison was still not providing a service fit for the 21st Century – but this was true of many prisons in the UK, said Mr Lawrence, who described some of the accommodation as ‘inhumane’.
“It was built for single cell occupancy, then it was converted for double occupancy, so rooms built for one now accommodate two.
“The sanitation is in the cell – you collect your food from the cafeteria, return to your cell with your cellmate and then have to sit next to the toilet to eat it.”
The report also finds prisoner complaints of being treated unfairly were largely justified due to differing punishment regimes employed on different wings, something Mr Lawrence said, was acknowledged by prison management.
HMP Hewell also suffers from a high level of prison ‘churn’ with remand prisoners from Wolverhampton once sent to HMP Birmingham now going to Hewell, said Mr Lawrence.
The result was that it was difficult for staff to build a relationship with prisoners before they were moved on, meaning many were ill-prepared for rehabilitation and release.
The report also describes how many prisoners serving ‘indefinite for public protection’ sentences were being let down by the system.
“These sentences were only meant to be used in a few cases,” said Mr Lawrence.
“But it’s now used for a lot more prisoners and there are many who have gone over their term.
“It’s a vicious circle; if you have been sent to prison for four years and have ended up serving another 11 you see no future. You get into a mindset which is self-destructive and start smashing things up when you are about to have a parole hearing.
“We need to have a place where we can can say, ‘let’s work with you to give you the skills to cope with the modern world’ to help their release, but Hewell is too busy for this.”
However the IMB did praise improvements in communication between staff and with prisoners, thanks to two new newsletters, and welcomed the start of a refurbishment programme and the installation of anti-drone netting.
The IMB comprises volunteers appointed by the Government to check that prisoners are being treated decently and humanely.
To see the full report on Hewell, visit www.imb.org.uk/reports.