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More than 100 incidents of prisoner protest recorded in one year at HMP Highpoint near Haverhill

Prisoners at HMP Highpoint near Haverhill protested against officers more than a hundred times last year, according to the Ministry of Justice.

HM Prison and Probation Service data shows that Highpoint prisoners were involved in 104 protest incidents from 2017-18, with charities saying that a high number of protesting prisoners could be a symptom of a “failing prison”.

According to HMPPS, there are four types of protesting behaviour: barricades, hostage incidents, concerted indiscipline and incidents at height.

The most common type across England and Wales are incidents at height, which involve any disorderly situation that takes place above the ground. There were 36 recorded incidents at height at Highpoint last year.

Common examples of an incident at height include prisoners climbing onto safety netting, onto portacabins or up trees.

Prisoners at Highpoint also barricaded themselves in their cells, blocked doors and prevented staff from accessing areas in the prison a total of 62 times last year. The number of incidents has been rising over the past five years - 32 were recorded in 2012-13.

Last year there were also four recorded incidents of concerted indiscipline, defined as two or more prisoners defying instructions from officers or deliberately refusing to comply with requests.

There were two hostage situations - which involve prisoners holding one or more people against their will.

The Prison Reform Trust said that prisons have formal systems for dealing with complaints, with avenues of appeal and the option to take a complaint to the Prison Ombudsman if the person is not happy with the outcome.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust and a former governor of High Down Prison in Surrey, said grievances that cause protests are mostly “day-to-day things”, like not having access to medication, not being let out of cells at the right time or not getting clean clothing on a regular basis.

He said that a lack of staff has a “knock-on effect” on the day-to-day running of the rest of the prison, which can cause prisoners to become frustrated and increases the likelihood of protest incidents.

He added: “The solution is all about nipping things in the bud. Often these things have started with something that could be solved with a single phone call.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform said that protesting behaviour is a “sign of desperation”.

Chief executive Frances Crook said: “Someone could barricade themselves in their cell because they are terrified of violence levels on the wing, or because they want to harm themselves.”

She said that a low number of recorded incidents may not be an indicator of a prison doing well.

She added: “It depends on how things are recorded by prison staff. They could try to downplay problems in the prison by under-recording incidents, or exaggerate reports to try and show that they’re under pressure.”

HMPPS said that they have recruited an extra 3,500 prison officers over the last two years.

It said an additional £40 million was being invested to “tackle the drugs and mobile phones which frequently fuel bad behaviour.”

A prison service spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate indiscipline, and anyone breaking the rules faces extra time behind bars.”

MP Matt Hancock was unavailable for comment and the Independent Monitoring Board and HMP Highpoint's governor were approached for a comment but neither had done so at the time the Echo went to print.

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