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HMP Berwyn: Does it raise more questions than it answers? Part 2

The Wales Governance Centre, a research centre and part of Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics undertakes innovative research into all aspects of the law, politics, government and political economy of Wales.

This week they released a report: Sentencing and Imprisonment in Wales 2018 Factfile by Dr Robert Jones

hmp berwyn

Before looking at this report, lets put things in context by referring to the first unannounced inspection by HMIP of HMP Berwyn in March 2019. Here it is reported that “impressive” support procedures are in place for new arrivals. Positive note. However, use of force was considerably higher than at similar prisons and 1 in 4 prisoners (23%) told HMIP that they felt unsafe. Alarm bells? 

Below are the four tests when inspecting a prison, Safety, Respect, Purposeful activity and Rehabilitation and release planning. Not the best outcome for the first inspection.

Safety: Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test.

Respect: Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test.

Purposeful activity: Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test.

Rehabilitation and release planning: Outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against this healthy prison test.

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/07/Berwyn-Web-2019.pdf

HMP Berwyn prison has only been open just over 2 years, hasn’t reached full capacity and has its 3rd governing Governor.

Now let’s look at some of the facts revealed  that are not easy reading

The number of self-harm incidents

2017 = 231

2018 = 542

Self-harm incidents rose by 135% in 2018

Rate of self-harm: (48 per 100 prisoners)

This is what the Government website states:

“Self-harm may occur at any stage of custody, when prisoners are trying to deal with difficult and complex emotions. This could be to punish themselves, express their distress or relieve unbearable tension or aggression. Sometimes the reason is a mixture of these. Self-harm can also be a cry for help, and should never be ignored or trivialised” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/suicide-self-harm-prevention-in-prison

This is what the HMIP report states:

“The strategic management of suicide and self harm required improvement. Strategic meetings were poorly attended and too little was done to analyse, understand and take action to address the causes of self-harm. Most of the at-risk prisoners on assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management did not feel sufficiently cared for. ACCT documents required improvement, and initial assessments and care plans were weak”

https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/07/Berwyn-Web-2019.pdf 

Yet below are more uncomfortable facts showing that this prison is not just dangerous for prisoners but for staff too. Nothing to celebrate here.

The number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults rose by 338% in 2018

Rate of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults: (20 per 100 prisoners)

The number of assaults on staff at HMP Berwyn increased by 405% in 2018

Rate of recorded assaults on staff (18 per 100 prisoners)

You would think that a new prison would have a security department second to none, with little chance of items being brought in. Yet these figures show that weapons, drugs, alcohol and tobacco are increasingly being found. Some may say hats off to the staff for finding these items, but really there’s still no cause for celebration…

The number of incidents where weapons were found in prison, years ending

March 2017 = 1

March 2018 =25

March 2019 Berwyn = 138

The rate of weapon finds (11 per 100 prisoners) year ending March 2019

This was the highest rate per prisoners in all prisons in Wales, astonishing. Serious problems with security.

The number of drug finds at HMP Berwyn increased by 328% in the year ending March 2019 (prison population increased by 67% during this period)

The rate of drug finds (16 per 100 prisoners)

Where are the robust measures to stop drugs coming into the prison?

The number of incidents where alcohol was found in HMP Berwyn years ending March

2017 = 0

2018 = 21

2019 = 146

Alcohol finds at HMP Berwyn rose by 595% (prison population increased by 67% during this period)

Rate of alcohol finds (12 per 100 prisoners) year ending March 2019.

Yet again the highest rate of alcohol finds in all the prisons in Wales

 The number of incidents where tobacco was found in HMP Berwyn years ending March

2018 = 20

2019 = 61

Rate of tobacco finds (5 per 100 prisoners)

The prison is covered in photos of Wales and the countryside, everywhere you look there is a motivational quote, there are flowers, bees, greenhouses yet one in 4 prisoners didn’t feel safe.

Comfy chairs in reception, pretty pictures, colourful décor does not appear to contribute to the safety of HMP Berwyn.HMP Berwyn visiting hall by North Wales Daily Post 1488378192745 450px

Motivational quotes such as “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows not the flower” means nothing if a quarter of the population feel unsafe.

Prisons can be austere places, drab, filthy, old and not fit for purpose. But here we have a new prison with serious problems. There can be no excuse that these are teething problems, we are talking about peoples lives.

Remember the Berwyn Values?

V = value each other and celebrate achievements

A = act with integrity and always speak the truth

L = look to the future with ambition and hope

U = uphold fairness and justice in all we do

E = embrace Welsh language and culture

S = stick at it

Is this just a marketing ploy, designed for a feel-good factor, making us all think that the money spent on this Titan prison was worth every penny?

Independent monitors have praised the work of staff at HMP Berwyn describing their efforts to establish a new prison as a ‘considerable achievement” (Recent comment by IMB) After this shocking report, what will they now say? Or will they remain silent? 

I don’t doubt there are some hard working, diligent and caring staff. In fact, I met some on my visit last year. But when the prison opened in 2017 over 90% of staff had never worked in a prison before. When you have prisoners arriving from over 60 prisons all with different regimes, you find they have far more experience of the prison estate than the majority of prison officers.

But more worryingly is that the Government is continuing with its programme of building new prisons. A new prison will be built in Wellingborough as part of the Government’s Prison Estate Transformation Programme. I’ve read gushing articles on how this prison will benefit the community etc, similar to when HMP Berwyn began construction. Just like HMP Berwyn there are many promises and opportunities, but theory and practice can be a million miles apart.

 


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