Further criticism is heaped onto prison

More horror stories about life at HMP Northumberland have emerged following the explosive BBC documentary which shocked viewers last week.

Thursday, 23rd February 2017, 7:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 8:18 am
An image from the show. Footage captured a prisoner high on the drug known as spice.

The BBC Panorama exposé, aired on Monday, February 13, gave a disturbing insight into the situation at the Acklington-based unit, which has been run by Sodexo Justice Services since December 2013.

The undercover report showed numerous problems at the Category C adult jail, including inmates high on drugs, lapses in security and staff struggling to cope.

After the show, the Herald was contacted by numerous people who have heaped more criticism onto the jail.

Branding the prison ‘a joke’, a wife of one prisoner said: “My husband went into HMP Northumberland not addicted to any substance and is now reliant on drugs. The prison is overrun with mobile phones, drugs and violence.”

Two former prison officers at the jail, who did not want to be named, also contacted us.

One recalled numerous incidents of violence at the prison, saying that many members of staff have been assaulted, claiming that ‘the most shocking incident was when a female officer had a knife held to her throat, being dragged backwards’.

The other former guard, who spent more than two decades in the prison service, described his time at the jail following Sodexo’s takeover as the worst years of his career and said the prison became a horrendous place to work.

He said the shocking documentary scenes, captured by undercover reporter Joe Fenton, were ‘just the tip of the iceberg’.

He said that staffing cuts at the jail had been a major factor in the problems.

After the show, Sodexo vowed to investigate and take action.

The company said that the safety and security of staff and prisoners was its top priority and added that the firm has invested more than £3million in a new fire system, additional CCTV and improved security technology.

Sodexo also said that the programme ‘mainly showed negative opinions and incidents, but it did not communicate the many positive actions and improvements that we have made at the prison to address these issues’.

The Ministry of Justice has also said that it will investigate.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery and county councillor Scott Dickinson called for Sodexo’s contract to be terminated, while Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said she would do what she could to support staff at the prison.

Over the last few years, the prison has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In November, shocking video footage emerged showing prisoners partying in a cell rave and apparently high on drink and drugs.

Last summer, a report published by the Independent Monitoring Board raised a number of issues about the prison, listing substance misuse as its most serious area of concern.

But the report did praise aspects of the jail and said that welcome and encouraging progress had been made on safety.