Inmates at a violent and drug-infested English prison have been locked away for years in “squalid” cells with no glass in the windows, a damning new report shows.
An official inspection of crumbling HMP Swinfen Hall in Staffordshire found hundreds of lags left “exposed to the elements” while locked in “cramped, dirty cells”.
The inmates – all young men aged 18 to 25 – were allowed to shower only once every four days and issued with “dirty and ill-fitting” clothes, the report found.
Violence has soared as a result of the “extremely poor conditions”, with prisoners being assaulted nearly every other day and a prison officer attacked almost every week.
In turn the use of force by prison staff is up almost 50% since the last inspection in 2014, with truncheons being drawn on 49 occasions over six months to break up “multiple fight situations”.
A third of prisoners said they felt unsafe, while almost half said they had been “victimised” by fellow prisoners. Many refuse to come out of their cells at all.
New arrivals often faced “aggressive behaviour” and “bullying” from other prisoners, while “a significant number” of lags said they felt “depressed or suicidal”.
Nearly half of the 600 inmates admitted it was “easy” to get drugs inside the prison, with a staggering one in five developing a drug habit while locked away at HMP Swinfen Hall.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is scandalous that the young men in Swinfen Hall find it easier to get drugs than showers.
“Men are so frightened for their safety because of rising violence that they are refusing to come out of their cells.
“Their clothes are dirty. Their cells are squalid. They spend the working day cooped up in filth. What hope do they have on release?”
Today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons said the lack of glass in “most” cell windows had been reported as far back as 2014.
Yet work to fix this basic requirement did not even begin for another two years.
“A, B and C wings were squalid; prisoners lived in cramped, dirty cells that were missing furniture, and often contained graffiti and scaled toilets,” inspectors said.
“A programme of window repairs reported at the 2014 inspection had only started during October 2016 for completion in March 2017.
“As a consequence, most of the 180 cells on these wings had windows without glass, leaving prisoners exposed to the elements.”
The prison had been deemed “satisfactory” on its last inspection in 2014, and the collapse in conditions follows massive funding cuts to the prison service which has seen the number of prison officers cut by up to 25%.
“I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly as the prison system in the last five years. It is now a national emergency,” Ms Crook said.
Prison inspector Peter Clarke said a new governor had taken over at HMP Swinfen Hall in the week of the inspection, and called for “strong leadership” to turn its performance around.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, admitted a lack of staff and money had been part of the problem.
But he insisted the recent decision by panicking Ministers to hire an extra 2,500 prison officers across the UK would make a significant difference to HMP Swinfen Hall.
“The deterioration in performance reflects operational pressures impacting on Swinfen Hall and the wider estate,” he said.
“More Prison Officers will be recruited for Swinfen Hall this year as part of the Government’s plans to boost staff by 2,500 across the prison service.
“These additional resources will help the Governor to significantly improve the performance of the prison.”