Leicester Prison staff 'did not know where inmates were'

HMP Leicester
Image caption HMP Leicester was built in the Victorian era for a capacity of 214 inmates

Staff at an overcrowded, violent prison did not always know where inmates were, an inspection revealed.

A report into Leicester prison showed there were high levels of violence, regular attacks on officers, increasing levels of self-harm, and drugs and alcohol were readily available.

Inspectors said the condition of the segregation unit was so poor, it should be closed immediately.

The prison service said it hoped a new governor would "drive improvement".

'Not fit for habitation'

The overcrowded prison had 325 inmates - 50% above capacity - when HM Inspectorate of Prisons made an unannounced visit in September.

The watchdog found conditions at the adult male prison had deteriorated since the previous inspection in November 2013, when it had felt problems were being addressed.

It found that cells in the segregation unit - where difficult prisoners are held - were "extremely cold, damp, decrepit and not fit for habitation" and recommended it is closed immediately.

In December prisoners smashed through their cell walls and staged a four-hour stand-off with guards.

Martin Lomas, of HMIP, said: "Over half of prisoners indicated that they had felt unsafe in Leicester... These findings were significantly worse than we would expect.

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"The prison was aware of the problems... but there was no strategy and no plan to reduce violence and intimidation."

Mr Lomas also identified there had been three deaths in custody, two of which were self-inflicted.

"Levels of self-harm had increased by 50% over the same period and were now five times the number in other local prisons," he said.

The deputy chief inspector added that "too little was done to disrupt supply" of drugs and alcohol to the "overcrowded and shabby" prison, where access to basic necessities required improvement.

The report said there was a "high degree of prisoner need, plainly evident to anyone walking around the wings".

Inspectors described basic procedural security as "poor", adding: "Staff often could not account for prisoners and we routinely found prisoners where they were not supposed to be."

Other concerns at Leicester prison:

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  • The quality of support for prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm was inconsistent
  • Use of force was very high - twice that of other, similar prisons - and arrangements to ensure accountability were weak
  • The time prisoners spent out of their cell was poor, and neither staff nor prisoners seemed to know what to expect from the daily routine

Michael Spurr, head of the prison service, said the report was "disappointing".

"Leicester's performance has deteriorated unacceptably and this cannot be allowed to continue," he said.

"A new governor has been appointed, who will provide the leadership required to rapidly drive improvement."

Glyn Travis, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers Association, blamed the problems on a lack of investment.

"The conditions we face in some of our prisons are absolutely appalling, not because of a lack of commitment, but because of a lack of consistency of care... and the fact we have just not got enough staff to do the job," he said.

Earlier this month, David Cameron announced six "reform prisons" were to be created in England and Wales as part of a pilot to tackle high levels of violence and reoffending.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Leicester's report is an example of how our ageing prisons need reform.

"We take our duty of care to staff and prisoners extremely seriously and tackling violence and drugs must be a priority."

Inspectors were pleased to find:

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  • Support for those with a drug problem was good
  • About 80% of prisoners felt respected by staff
  • Prisoners' achievements, for those who attended courses in education and vocational training, were generally high - although the quality of teaching required improvement

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