Hereford & Worcester

HMP Hewell prison staff 'frightened', officer claims

HMP Hewell Image copyright David Jones/PA
Image caption The prison officer said there were not enough staff at the jail

A prison officer at an under-fire jail in Worcestershire says staff are frightened to stand up to prisoners and staffing levels are dangerously low.

Earlier this week, inspectors said they had safety concerns about inmates at HMP Hewell, with vulnerable prisoners self-harming "to address basic issues".

The anonymous officer also told BBC News cells were rarely searched.

A prison spokesman said staffing levels were set using a national benchmark, but it was recruiting new officers.

He added that intelligence-led cell searches were now more common practice.

Staff cuts

The prison officer highlighted areas of concern among staff.

"The staff don't feel safe and there's not enough of them," the officer said.

"We've been cut back. In order to run a prison safely and securely you need the staff, and that's been totally taken away.

"Staff don't feel able to challenge prisoners properly... there's no consequence for bad behaviour."

The officer said mandatory cell searches were no longer conducted and they were "rammed" with contraband including mobile phones and weapons.

Use of synthetic cannabis was "rife" and targeted searches were "few and far between".

'Targeted approach'

In its report earlier this week, HM Inspectorate of Prisons said there had been one murder and six suicides since its last visit and incidents of self-harming and bullying were high.

It found up to 40% of cells at the prison near Redditch were overcrowded, while access to basic services such as clothing, cleaning materials and mail were all poor.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said Hewell had seen frontline officers cut from 330 in August 2010 to 170 by the end of June this year.

In a statement, governor Nigel Atkinson said Hewell did have some job vacancies, which meant that "at times certain aspects of the prison regime may be restricted" but all work was risk assessed.

Regarding cell searches he said they were conducted based on "a more targeted approach", "deploying resources appropriately and proportionately, based on intelligence".

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