CHANNINGS Wood Prison is suffering from ‘failing infrastructure’ and the effects of overcrowding, a report has concluded.

Staff at the Category C prison near Denbury were described as ‘hard-working’ but hampered by the ‘detrimental effects of a prison system failing to cope’, according to the Independent Monitoring Board’s annual report.

Incidents of self-harm are on the rise, assaults have gone up by 20 per cent and the volunteer monitors fear ‘illicit’ items inside the prison present risks to prisoners’ safety and to discipline.

With an operational capacity of 746, the prison is aimed at ‘male training and resettlement’.

But the Board’s 2022 to 2023 report says ‘despite a committed leadership and hard-working staff, failing infrastructure and a rising prison population hampers the provision of safe and decent conditions for prisoners and the prison’s ability to perform its function as a training and resettlement prison, preparing prisoners for release’.

Board members say they are increasingly concerned by the adverse consequences of overcrowding.

While the efforts of managers to tackle the problem is ‘recognised’, they have no means of putting in place effective solutions.

The report says after a temporary fall last year, levels of self-harm are increasing and above the average seen at comparative prisons.

There were 123 reported incidents of assault during the report period.

Assaults rose by 20 per cent with serious assaults up 70 per cent although assaults on staff have remained static at three in the past 12 months.

The report continues: ‘Despite measures to intercept illicit items, the Board is concerned that such items, especially drugs, present a risk to discipline and prisoners’ safety and wellbeing, by fuelling debt and its consequences.’

IMB Channings Wood chairman Robert Jordan said: ‘We regularly observe staff doing a difficult job to the best of their ability, but it is quite invidious to expect them to find local solutions to a host of challenges stemming from problems at the national level.

‘These include underinvestment in a neglected prison estate, not helped by a frequently shuffled pack of mostly detached prisons ministers.

‘Since I joined the IMB in 2018 there have been 10 in total. That surely shows the importance the government attaches to our prisons.’

Among the Board’s positive comments in the report, it says it is pleased to see the prison’s Outside The Box unit was highlighted for its notable positive practice in the most recent HMIP inspection report and continues to provide an excellent service for prisoners with personality disorders.

The prison received the annual Shannon Trust award for outstanding contribution to improving levels of prisoner literacy.

Members say they have observed the compassionate treatment of men requiring palliative care by staff and other prisoners through the peer-to peer support network.

However, the Board also reports that:

use of the segregation unit as a place to house prisoners with acute mental health conditions is not appropriate, and those awaiting transfer to secure hospital settings face long delays.

education and training courses are often unable to operate at full capacity because of failing equipment and staff shortages, aggravated by increased demand due to overcrowding.

the excessive time taken to carry out repairs to key buildings and equipment adversely affects living conditions for prisoners and access to many of the activities which help prepare them for release.

The report has also raised issues direct with the Prisons Minister through publication of the report.

It asks when a delayed strategy for older and ageing prisoners, which was ‘much trailed’ and is still awaited, will be published and for assurance it will be properly resourced.

The report says: ‘The Board has observed the steady and detrimental impact of acute population pressures across a range of prison services.

‘The planned expansion at Channings Wood is part of the national programme intended to address this.

‘Can the Minister assure the Board that the provision of new infrastructure will not be at the expense of maintaining the current and ageing estate?

‘Will an equal priority be given to maintaining the current old estate as to funding the new?’

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘HMP Channings Wood is taking action to address the concerns raised in this report and we are boosting prison capacity with 20,000 new places.

‘Cells are only doubled-up where it is safe to do so and the prison has improved staff training to better spot and help those at risk to self-harm.’