Prisoners dug through Winchester prison walls with plastic cutlery, shocking report finds

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Winchester Prison
Footage of a disturbance at HMP Winchester captured by a film crew who made Channel 4's Crime and Punishment. Picture by Channel 4 Picture Publicity/ 72 Films

The shocking state of Winchester Prison has been laid bare by a new report by a jail watchdog.

In its latest report, the Independent Monitoring Board, highlighted crumbling walls and roofs all over the prison, leading to leaks, flooding, and slip hazards.

The report said maintenance was often delayed even when it gave rise to security concerns. The condition of the walls in Winchester was so bad in places that there were several occasions throughout the year where inmates were able to damage and attempt to dig through cell walls, on one occasion through the wall to the landing, using simple implements such as plastic cutlery.

The report also criticised the conditions of prisons with severe mental health needs and at Winchester the report said Care and separation units were routinely full, with prisoners segregated in cell confinement on the ordinary wings instead.

It said: “Care and separation units (CSUs) continued to be generally fraught environments, exacerbated by overcrowding and population pressures which caused additional crowding and churn in CSUs across the estate.”

Almost 50% of prisoners leaving Winchester were released homeless which was “a serious concern” said the report.

Elisabeth Davies, National Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), said: “As the eyes and ears of the public, the value of local IMBs monitoring places of detention is clear. During 2023, over 37,700 visits were carried out by 132 IMBs. Yet over recent years, their concerns have often gone unaddressed, with Boards posing the same questions over and over again to ministers.

“IMBs in prisons have been providing direct evidence to ministers on where change needs to occur for prisons to provide effective rehabilitation and, in turn, protect the public, something they are currently failing to do. Existing capacity and crowding pressures are forecast to increase and will only exacerbate the concerns highlighted in our 2023 National Annual Report.

“In the immigration detention estate, it is shocking that Home Office policy continues to deny some detained people of their prescription medication, and that we continue to see vulnerable individuals detained, despite the processes in place intended to prevent this.

“It is time that ministers saw the value of the IMB members they have appointed and start listening to what is being reported to them from prisons and immigration detention facilities across the United Kingdom.”

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