Staff shortages at Norwich prison compromising safety

HMP Norwich. Photo: Angela Sharpe

HMP Norwich. Photo: Angela Sharpe - Credit: Archant © 2009

Staff shortages and substandard accommodation are compromising safety at Norwich prison, according to a monitoring report published today.

The annual report from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of HMP Norwich found 'the safety of prisoners and staff has been a constant concern, stemming principally from a [staff] shortage'.

It says the shortage remains a concern despite a major recruitment programme, which has left more than half of the current staff with less than a year's experience.

In a statement, the IMB said: 'The scarcity of staff on the landings and inadequate time available to develop supportive interactions between staff and prisoners have resulted in safety being compromised. Time out of cell has been restricted, activity sessions cancelled and staff are frequently cross-deployed to 'plug the gaps' in the daily management of the prison, losing vital personal knowledge of prisoners' needs.'

At one time just 16 officers overseeing a jail with a capacity of 793 Category B, C and D prisoners – a ratio of just less than one in 50.

The IMB spokesman added: 'Prisoner on prisoner violence is widespread with a lack of respect for staff, property and each other. The Board notes that experienced staff continue to maintain the best possible atmosphere in difficult circumstances.

'The Board is disappointed by the lack of capital investment into refurbishment of accommodation and facilities at Norwich Prison, concluding prisoners are not always treated humanely in this respect.

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'Damp-smelling cells with mould on the walls and bubbled paintwork, showers green with mould, no washing machines for over three months and prisoners laundering their sheets and towels on the wings cannot be acceptable.

'Full-time purposeful activity spaces are inadequate and attendance at work and education is not satisfactory, despite many attempts to improve these figures.'

The IMB concluded the government's Through the Gate programme, designed to prepare prisoners for release and rehabilitation 'lacks effectiveness and continuity of support', with prisoners released into the community with no accommodation.

A Prisons Service spokesman said: 'We have recruited over 3,000 prison officers nationally in the last 18 months to improve safety and help turn offenders' lives around.

'Norwich prison is already feeling the benefits of this, with an additional 60 officers already on landings and a further 9 to join them by the end of the summer.

'It is also important that we retain experienced staff members and last year we increased prison officer pay by an average of 1.7pc.'