Substance misuse at prison is key concern

HMP Northumberland.
HMP Northumberland.

Serious concerns have been raised about substance misuse at HMP Northumberland, while the number of self-harm incidents rose last year, a new report states.

The document was published recently by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), reviewing the Acklington-based unit’s performance in 2015.

The IMB raises a number of issues at the Sodexo Justice Services-run Category C facility and lists substance misuse as its most serious area of concern.

But the report does praise aspects of the male-adult prison and says that welcome and encouraging progress has been made on safety.

The IMB, which is responsible for monitoring day-to-day life in the prison, states: ‘Despite intense security efforts and additional support offered to prisoners, the level of substance misuse in the prison remains an area of serious concern.

‘There has been progress in 2015. The Board anticipates further progress in 2016 and acknowledges that this is a complex problem. It would be naïve to expect a quick solution and it remains the Board’s most serious area of concern’.

As well as substance misuse, the report states that self-harming is also a worry, with the number of incidents increasing by around 20 per cent in comparison to 2014.

But the Board ‘has been impressed with the caring way that individual incidents of self-harm are handled’ and states that the number of self-harm incidents at the prison is lower than those experienced nationally. It has also welcomed the introduction of two close-observation cells on house blocks so that prisoners at risk of self-harm can be better handled.

The report states that during 2015 ‘safety continued to receive a high level of attention’ and ‘specific actions are being taken to address the behaviour of the worst offenders and to reduce drug supply’.

The IMB adds that ‘safety will remain an important area of focus in 2016, but the trends are in the right direction. The progress that was made in 2015 is encouraging’ and will be monitored during 2016.

Pressures on the Separation and Care Unit (SACU) was a concern, while the IMB states that recruitment of sufficient mental health staff ‘was a challenge throughout 2015’.

The Board does praise work being done at the prison, including the ‘significant progress’ in creating employment opportunities for prisoners in 2015 and the development of a ‘very successful’ day-care facility for older prisoners.

The report states that after a year of change in 2014, the male-adult prison ‘settled down’ in 2015 ‘to ensure it provides a safe and decent environment’ and some adverse publicity by the local media ‘has not always been justified’.

The IMB adds: ‘Most of the concerns raised by the Board in 2014 have either been resolved or significant progress has been made. Progress in safety and employment is particularly welcome’.

A prison spokesman said that the feedback in the report was welcome and an action plan has been implemented in regards to the safety and wellbeing of prisoners and staff and the management of the SACU.