Prison under fire as concerns highlighted in report

HMP Highpoint Prison, off the A143 near Stradishall.
HMP Highpoint Prison, off the A143 near Stradishall.
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‘Serious concerns’ about HMP Highpoint have been revealed in an independent annual report into the prison.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which monitors day-to-day life at Highpoint, highlights in its 2016 report:

- Low staffing levels, their impact on the prison and the challenges faced to keep the environment safe and secure.

- The availability and use of the drug ‘spice’, which can result in unpredictable and violent behaviour.

- Concerns about prisoners arriving with incomplete or out-of-date sentence plans.

- The need for a review of how prisoners’ personal property is handled during transfers.

However, members of the board – which visited the prison 702 times in 2016 – praised staff for their dedication and hard work in difficult circumstances.

The report said: “Throughout the year there have remained many challenges within the establishment, in particular staffing vacancies and levels and sickness and the availability of New Psychoative Substances (spice).

“The board is aware that staff shortages have had an impact on the safety and security of the prison. The number of reportable incidents has increased significantly during 2016 and some prisoners and staff reported feeling less safe.”

The report added that 68 posts were still vacant at the end of the year.

During most of 2016 Highpoint was classified at level three in terms of performance, but was dropped to level two in December following internal audit visits concerning safety and security.

“The revised classification reflects that overall, performance of the prison is of concern,” said the report.

There was an increase in incidents involving ‘spice’ – an illegal high – with one month seeing 94 incidents and 10 in one day alone. This ‘continues to have a profound and damaging effect and remains of great concern’, added the report.

Meanwhile, both prisoners and staff had spoken of feeling unsafe at times, with board members ‘aware of periods when the prison was very unsettled’, though this had improved in the latter part of 2016.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “HMP Highpoint is one of 31 sites receiving support for a targeted local recruitment campaign and newly recruited officers are expected to complete their training in the coming months.

“Since the inspection, the prison has taken a number of steps to address safety concerns, with the development of a violence reduction team, as well as the installation of CCTV and the increased use of patrol dogs and intelligence-led searching.”