Inmates in category C prisons have too little to do, say inspectors

Inmates at two resettlement prisons in England and Wales are locked up for more than 22 hours a day with too little to do, inspectors have found.

Unannounced inspections at Brixton and The Mount prisons in March found most of the 1,716 inmates at the two sites were locked up for 22 hours a day and longer at weekends.

Reports by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons of the two Category C prisons show that they “failed to provide the resettlement and training functions essential to the rehabilitation of inmates”.

Category C prisons are training and resettlement prisons that hold prisoners considered to be at low risk of escape but who cannot be trusted in open custody.

Inmates at two resettlement prisons in England and Wales are locked up for more than 22 hours a day, inspectors have found

Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said the findings “raise serious questions” about the lack of importance prisons place on providing inmates with genuinely useful ways to spend their time.

Prisons including Brixton, The Mount and Rochester each received the lowest ‘poor’ rating for intentional activity after inmates said they spent 22 hours or more a day locked in their cells.

The situation was even worse on weekends, inspectors found.

Mr Taylor said in a blog post: “In these prisons, we have seen delays in getting prisoners back to education, training and work, often created by too few activity spaces, poor allocation process, staffing shortages and a tentative approach to reopening the scheme.”

Other Category C prison inspections showed a delay in returning to full regime once pandemic restrictions eased, including at HMP Rochester where an inmate said ‘they are taking advantage of Covid to make it easier for staff “.

More than a third of all prisoners in England and Wales are held in Category C prisons, which the prison service says should offer prisoners ‘the opportunity to develop their own skills so that they can find work and resettle in the community when they leave”.

Delays have been noted in the return of inmates to education, training and work, often due to an insufficient number of activity spaces, poor allocation processes, staff shortages and a hesitant approach to reopening the regime.

Brixton Jail

Brixton Jail

Mr Taylor said it was “particularly depressing” to see workshops and classrooms that should have thrived, empty or with only a handful of prisoners taking part in activities.

The recommendations made regarding concerns about respect, targeted activity, rehabilitation and release planning at Brixton prison, south London, which were raised during the last inspection in 2019 before the pandemic does not strike, had not been reached.

Security outcomes for inmates were previously described as ‘good enough’, but are now considered ‘not good enough’.

Inspectors found that 24% of prisoners surveyed said they currently felt unsafe and that the unsafe environment had led some Brixton prisoners to self-isolate out of fear.

Recorded levels of violence against staff, which have increased since the last inspection, were high and likely caused by inmates’ frustrations with their inability to deal with day-to-day issues, the report said.

The number of recorded attacks on prisoners has decreased.

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Overcrowding compounded the problem of lack of time out of the cell for Brixton prisoners.

Too many prisoners shared dirty, graffiti-covered, ill-equipped cells designed for one, and it was often difficult for prisoners to access basics, such as toilet paper, clean bedding, and clothing.

But Brixton prisoners said the quality of the food was excellent and many inmates said it was the most positive part of prison life.

The Mount, near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, was found to be insufficiently good in respect.

Security at the Mount was rated as generally good.

Ofsted has called the overall provision of education at The Mount and Brixton “inadequate”.

Both prisons were found to offer too few opportunities to gain accredited qualifications, while low attendance and delays, often due to delayed releases, took a toll on inmates’ ability to learn.

Mr Taylor added: ‘It costs taxpayers around £45,000 to keep someone in jail for a year.

“It is in all of our interests that our prisons, especially category C prisons, invest more effort in giving inmates the skills to resettle successfully on release.”

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