Channings Wood – ‘a prison in decline’

By Sam Hall in Other News

CHANNINGS Wood Prison, Denbury, has been on the receiving end of yet another savaging by the authorities.

The jail is said to be struggling to cope – and without resources at a senior level to stop the rot.

The latest damning indictment has come from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) after an unannounced visit in October last year uncovered staff straining to deal with outbreaks of violence and drugs abuse.

Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, said: ‘Channings Wood is a prison in decline. The senior management team had a number of vacancies, including that of deputy governor, all of which left substantial strategic and operational gaps.

‘As a result, our major concern is that the prison just doesn’t have the necessary strategies, plans or resources at a senior level to halt the deterioration.’

Last month similar criticisms were levelled at the under-siege jail from the Independent Monitoring Board which warned in its hard-hitting report: ‘We cannot stress strongly enough that not only is the barely containable negative atmosphere undermining the rehabilitative aspects of the prison but the inevitable eruptions that we are witnessing are likely to become increasingly serious and dangerous.’

HMIP said its recent findings – in a 116-page report – were in marked contrast to the last visit in 2012 when Channings Wood was found to be performing reasonably well but needed to improve work, training and education for prisoners.

The recent inspection found that the prison had ‘regressed markedly.’

Safety was a significant concern with inspectors troubled by poor arrangements to receive new prisoners, levels of violence increasing together with the use of force, two prisoners had committed suicide, self-harm incidents had risen, and half the prison population of 700 reckoned it was easy to obtain illicit substances.

Other areas of concern included inadequate attention to ensure prisoners attended work, training or education with many available places not used, half of the prisoners arriving at the jail did not have risk assessments and offender supervision was reactive because staff were mainly deployed elsewhere.

But there were some plus points. The general prison environment was deemed good as was the accommodation.

Many prisoners felt they were respected by staff, time out of cells was reasonable for working inmates, teaching and learning were generally good in education and vocational training for those who attended and the work of the community rehabilitation company was increasingly effective. Work to help prisoners settle back into the community was also felt to be reasonable.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said in response to the criticisms: ‘We recognise that immediate action must be taken to improve safety and reduce violence.’

He said experienced senior leaders had been appointed to work in the prison and support the governor to tackle the issues raised in the report.

‘More prison officers have been recruited to help tackle violence and the prison has increased the use of metal detectors to help find weapons and mobile phones,’ he revealed.

And he added: ‘I’m confident that together with these extra resources the governor will be able to fully address the recommendations in this report and significantly improve the performance of the prison.’

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