Prison report highlights a rise of self-harming incidents in 2014

HMP Northumberland.
HMP Northumberland.

The number of inmates who self-harmed at a Northumberland prison rose dramatically last year, a new study has revealed.

The damning findings are highlighted in the recently-published annual report of the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Northumberland for 2014.

The number of self-harm incidents at the Acklington-based Category C unit was 50 per cent higher than in 2013, the document states.

While the board acknowledges that the number of incidents is relatively low compared to similar prisons, it has demanded to know what steps will be taken in 2015 to halt the rise.

On top of this, the number of incidents involving damage to prison property each month in 2014 was three times higher than in 2013, despite offenders having to meet the cost of the damage.

The board also received complaints from vulnerable prisoners claiming intimidation and bullying from other inmates and states that there were examples of physical violence.

However, the board has welcomed the reduction in levels of substance abuse, saying the number of prisoners failing random drug tests has almost halved in comparison to 2013.

The prison has been in the spotlight over the last 18 months or so, following the takeover by private firm Sodexo Justice Services, which acquired operational responsibility in December 2013.

In light of this, the board has called for a period of stability at the male-adult prison, following ‘widespread change’ in 2014 which presented ‘a challenge to management, staff and prisoners’.

The report states that the transition process in the first half of the year was swift and complex, but contingency plans which were put in place to deal with unexpected peaks in demand for staff resources during the transition period were ‘insufficient to handle all eventualities’.

But it adds: “A more viable approach to staffing contingency was in place by the middle of the year. Additional staff have since been recruited and trained, and this has eased some pressures. The development of new skills and adjusting to new roles is an ongoing process, but progress is being made.”

The report does highlight a number of positive steps at the prison. It states that, during 2014, progress was made in equality and inclusion, access to hospital care, support for older prisoners and health-care programmes and interventions, among other things.

It adds that action has been taken to reduce the complaints backlog and there are a number of encouraging initiatives to improve work opportunities, while refurbishment at the prison is continuing.

A Sodexo spokesman didn’t comment specifically on the self-harming issue, but said: “We welcome the report’s findings. It shows that, despite the huge amount of change the prison has undergone in many areas, prisoners have continued to receive appropriate care and staff have maintained professional standards. It highlights some areas for further improvement which we are addressing.”

The quick-thinking actions of two prisoners at HMP Northumberland who rushed to help a man who had collapsed have been praised.

The Independent Monitoring Board states: “On October 21, one of the board members collapsed while he was making a visit to the prison.

“He was discovered by two prisoners who were driving operational transport buggies.

“They immediately called for help, and, as they had received first-aid training in the prison, were able to establish that the board member had a pulse and was breathing. They put him in the recovery position and covered him.

“Prison and healthcare staff arrived shortly afterwards, found CPR was needed, and started it, and called an ambulance.

“The board member was taken to hospital, and later had a major heart operation. He is now returning to board duties.

“The board feels that the way that prisoners, prison staff, healthcare and the Family Liaison Team handled this was exemplary.”