'Degrading and unacceptable': Shocking conditions found at HMP Erlestoke

22 September 2020, 00:06

Poor conditions have been found at HMP Erlestoke during a recent inspection
Poor conditions have been found at HMP Erlestoke during a recent inspection. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Prisoners were subjected to "degrading and unacceptable" treatment when they had to use buckets for two weeks while waiting for jail toilets to be fixed, inspectors said.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke raised concerns about the conditions as part of findings from his latest visit to HMP Erlestoke.

He also said he found a "very troubling" picture of violence, disorder and self-harm.

The use of force by staff on inmates had more than doubled since the start of lockdown amid prisoners being locked up in cells for most of each day for five months as a result of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

But the "lack of leadership and oversight" of the segregation unit, where prisoners are effectively held in solitary confinement, was "especially concerning", Mr Clarke warned.

A report on the findings of the inspection carried out last month at the category C jail in Wiltshire, which holds around 500 prisoners, said: "We saw treatment that was degrading and unacceptable.

"We found one prisoner and were made aware of two others who had been without toilets, running water and a cell call bell system for approximately two weeks.

"They had been given buckets while waiting for cell toilets to be fixed.

"There were also serious safeguarding concerns about the lack of social care provision.

"We found vulnerable adults who had been left unable to complete basic tasks, such as cleaning themselves or their cells properly, or collecting food."

Read more: 'Solitary confinement' prison conditions during lockdown, MPs told

Mr Clarke said overall the response to the coronavirus pandemic there "has led to a less safe, less decent and less purposeful prison".

"Although the amount of time prisoners could spend out of their cells had been increased in the early stages of lockdown, during our visit in August most prisoners still only received 45-minute sessions in the morning and the afternoon, and an additional half an hour one evening a week.

"Prisoners reported being frustrated about daily delays in the delivery of this limited regime and about the lack of activity."

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, labelled the conditions "degrading and unacceptable"
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, labelled the conditions "degrading and unacceptable". Picture: PA Images

Inspectors were also disturbed by a spike in the number of "serious incidents of indiscipline" before, during and after the inspection, as well as the discovery of "significant amounts" of Hooch alcopops inside the jail.

The level of assaults remaining similar to that before lockdown despite prisoners being locked up for most of the day, but inspectors found a significant increase in self-harm among prisoners since lockdown with "deficiencies" in care and monitoring.

"Racist" graffiti being found, alongside broken cell windows with sharp shards of glass, blocked toilets and broken showers.

The findings prompted Mr Clarke to raise the concerns urgently with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland - who he said agreed to address the problems.

Mr Clarke added: "The prison appeared to have lost its purpose, which was to address the offending behaviour and reduce the risks of long-term offenders.

"I am in no doubt that well-led and properly supported local innovation and flexibility are now urgently needed to restore the acceptable treatment and conditions of the prisoners held there."

Read more: Justice Secretary: 'It's not right' serious criminals only serve half their sentences

Responding to the report, a Prison Service spokesman said: "We have taken immediate action to address all the issues raised in this report, with a focus on improving safety and living standards.

"A programme of repair work is under way across the prison, with the majority of work expected to be completed by the end of the month.

"We are urgently working to identify additional improvements we can make to prisoner safety and Erlestoke will receive additional staff training and specialist support to help drive down violence."