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More prisoners self-harming at HMP Whatton following lockdown

A report on a prison says that the pandemic has resulted in more prisoners self-harming because of a 'more restricted regime'.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported that the number of self-harm incidents at HMP Whatton, which holds 770 sex offenders, was higher following lockdown. The report says the prison managed some prisoners with complex cases who repeatedly self-harmed, accounting for over a quarter of all incidents. Prisoners who had recently self-harmed reported feeling very frustrated with the prolonged restricted regime.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that at the very start of the pandemic, one prisoner had died in hospital from a COVID-19-related illness and a few staff members had been symptomatic, but there had been no further cases in the prison at the time of the scrutiny visit in August 2020. He said clear communication to staff and prisoners and appropriate measures to reduce the spread of infection had helped to keep the prison safe.

HMP Whatton 161118TV6-3. (5469917)
HMP Whatton 161118TV6-3. (5469917)

After five months of COVID-19 restrictions, the report says staff were frustrated that rigid national rules were severely curtailing their ability to be innovative in working with prisoners, most of whom were serving long sentences of over four years, including 45 per cent serving indeterminate or life sentences.

However, the report says that since lockdown levels of violence had reduced and the use of force by staff remained low. Staff-prisoner relationships remained positive, although time out of cells was restricted.

Mr Clarke said: “Managers had taken a reasonable decision to focus what limited time for key work was available on the prisoners with the greatest need, such as those who were being supported by assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management.

“However, other one-to-one opportunities with prison offender managers (POMs) or other specialist staff were limited, providing a possible explanation for our survey findings, which although positive about relationships with staff, indicated the quality of contact needed to be better.”

Prisoners at Whatton felt the weight of the COVID-19 restrictions heavily because before lockdown, most of them had benefited from plenty of time out of their cells with reliable access to programmes, education and work. At the time inspectors visited, in August 2020, most prisoners were locked up for around 22 hours a day, which was clearly taking its toll on many of those inspectors spoke to. The prison had retained work for around a third of the population, however, which was commendable.

Mr Clarke said: “Managers believed they could deliver more but the need to comply rigidly to the national framework for recovery had affected the scope of what the prison could offer, and the pace at which it could be delivered, in several areas. This was clearly a source of frustration for managers and prisoners, who felt their ability to be innovative and creative had been severely curtailed.”

Prisoners had transferred to Whatton from all over the country to complete offending behaviour programmes to reduce their risk and progress through their sentence. Much of this crucial work had stopped during the restricted regime, though the prison had maintained some useful one-to-one offending behaviour work and had well-developed plans to restart small-scale groupwork.

Too many prisoners were released without sustainable accommodation, which undermined the otherwise good public protection work at Whatton.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Managers and staff at Whatton were keeping prisoners relatively safe and motivated during challenging times. The pace of change was being directed nationally and was slower than the prison was capable of. Managers and staff were anxious about the impact on prisoners of long-term restrictions in a prison that had previously provided a full and rehabilitative regime.”

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