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Winchester prison:  a staffing crisis and crumbling Victorian buildings

In its 2021-22 annual report published today, the independent monitoring board (IMB) at HMP Winchester reports that, although there have been some improvements, the prison was suffering from the loss of experienced staff, a high turnover of prisoners, a persistent atmosphere of violence, and vermin-infested, crumbling, outdated buildings. The Board commends senior managers for their hard work and care for prisoners under such challenging conditions.

In short, the continued unsatisfactory nature of the living conditions, continued availability of drugs and contraband and a prevailing atmosphere of volatility, undermined the opportunity for the prisoners and hard-pressed staff to achieve the outcomes mandated by the justice system.

  • Recruitment, training and retention of appropriately skilled staff has been extremely difficult in a region where other, better paid, less stressful jobs are available
  • Overcrowding persisted, with most prisoners sharing cells originally designed for one and, during Covid restrictions, held in their cells for 22 hours a day
  • Drugs and other contraband continued to be readily available
  • Despite a slight reduction in the number of assaults on staff, the prison remained a violent place. Younger prisoners were responsible for a disproportionate number of violent incidents
  • There was little opportunity for pre-release or resettlement work.

However, the Board welcomes the fact that that work has started on a new care and segregation unit (CSU). The old CSU, which housed up to seven of the most challenging prisoners, has been condemned as a ‘dungeon’ in successive IMB reports.

IMB chair Rob Heather says: ‘Although there has been some improvement, there are many areas where the prison fell short of the standards required, including high levels of violence and not enough purposeful activity. Staff shortages and Covid restrictions meant that basic welfare checks were often not carried out, and the key worker scheme, which is meant to ensure meaningful interaction between staff and prisoners, was very severely curtailed.’