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HMP Forest Bank inmates 'feel unsafe' after rise in jail attacks

HMP Forest Bank Image copyright Google
Image caption A HM Inspectorate of Prisons report said while the prison was "well-led", safety had "deteriorated"

Hundreds of violent "prisoner-on-prisoner" attacks at a Salford jail have left a third of inmates feeling unsafe, a report has found.

In May, inspectors found 400 acts of violence had been reported at HMP Forest Bank in the previous six months.

They also found 60% of inmates were sharing single-occupancy cells and many officers were "very inexperienced".

Facilities firm Sodexo, which runs the jail, said it would "continue to work tirelessly to improve safety".

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) visited the Category B male prison, which has a baseline capacity of 1,064 but houses 1,436 prisoners, to undertake an unannounced inspection between 13 and 24 May.

They found "prisoner-on-prisoner violence" had accounted for much of the increase and almost 25% of the 400 attacks recorded in the previous six months were "serious", which had left 52% of the jail's vulnerable inmates feeling unsafe.

"Low-level antisocial behaviour was not addressed sufficiently", the report said, adding the oversight of documentation of attacks was "lacklustre" and the incentives scheme was "focused too much on punitive measures".

Image copyright Cody Lachey

Analysis

By Cody Lachey - Former HMP Forest Bank prisoner, who now campaigns for prison reform

The report on Forest Bank doesn't surprise me. The increase in violence is alarming, but for the last three years, it has had the highest drug seizures of any prison in England and Wales and the state of mental health problems within the prison are beyond words.

It is beset by problems, because the staff are getting younger and younger and prisoners are masters of manipulation, who will always seek to exploit weakness, whether that's in another prisoner or a prison officer.

Prison life is very boring and repetitive and because of the overwhelming amounts of contraband, it's very easy to fall into debt - in prisons, if you borrow something, you have to pay double back.

Prisoners who are in debt live a very paranoid existence because their debt is increasing and where you have debt, you have fear, intimidation, bullying and violence.

To be honest, I have no idea how Sodexo still have the contract at Forest Bank, as they are not fit to run a bath.

Inspectors found almost 60% of prisoners shared a cell designed for one, 63% experienced mental health issues, self-harm had "increased greatly" and there had been one "self-inflicted death".

A Sodexo spokesman said since the 2016 inspection, the jail has seen 10 deaths in custody.

HMIP also said many of the jail's staff were "very inexperienced", with 37% having less than 12 months' experience in their role, which meant they "did not assert sufficient authority" and there was a danger of "some prisoner groups" taking advantage of them.

However, HMIP chief inspector Peter Clarke said the jail was "well-led, competent and confident", adding that while HMIP had identified there was "more work to do in safety", inspectors had delivered an "encouraging report".

"Forest Bank continued to be a reasonably well-ordered and settled prison, delivering generally good outcomes," he said.

"Prisoners could, for example, access a better regime than we normally see for this type of prison [and] rehabilitation and resettlement work was consistently a strength."

'More to do'

Sodexo said "in common with many prisons, Forest Bank had seen increased levels of staff turnover in recent years", but all staff had the "maximum training, support and guidance possible to perform their job to a high standard".

HMP Forest Bank director Matt Spencer said the firm acknowledges "there is more to do around levels of violence, but we are pleased this report recognises the positive steps we are taking to improve safety".

"We take on board the recommended improvements and will continue to work tirelessly to improve safety at HMP Forest Bank for all who live and work here," he said.

Director general of prisons Phil Copple said while he was pleased the prison was well-led, Sodexo's performance would be monitored "to ensure they act on inspectors' recommendations".

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