HMP MAIDSTONE – Violent incidents and Use of Force increase and the growing drugs problem must be addressed

Inspectors found that the number of violent incidents and the use of force by staff had increased since the previous inspection but levels were lower than in most similar category C prisons.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “In terms of behaviour management, it was good to see what we have recorded as good practice in the use of incentives and earned privileges.”

However, Mr Clarke added: “I would sound a note of caution about the…impact of illicit drugs. The prison, unlike so many others, had not been destabilised by an influx of drugs, but there were some worrying signs.” The positive test rate in random tests of prisoners had risen and now stood at 14.5%.

“This was too high to be taken lightly. Shortly after this inspection some 15 parcels containing contraband, including drugs, were thrown over the wall into the prison in the space of a single night. Despite the clear indications that drugs were a growing problem, the response to intelligence was poor, with backlogs and suspicion searches not being carried out in a timely fashion or at all. There was clearly a need to refocus on the strategy for reducing the supply of illicit drugs, and there is certainly no room at all for complacency.”

Inspectors found generally good relationships between staff and prisoners “and a higher than usual proportion of prisoners told us they were treated with respect by staff.”  However, much of the residential accommodation was old, shabby and in need of refurbishment and the sports hall had been condemned and closed.

One of the most serious concerns was the decline in terms of the purposeful activity available to prisoners. Mr Clarke said: “For those in employment the amount of time out of cell was perfectly adequate, but there were only sufficient activity places for around three-quarters of the population.

“Far too much of the work that was available was mundane and menial, and I was surprised to see large numbers of prisoners in workshops playing games rather than being engaged in work.”

In contrast, rehabilitation and release planning had improved since the last inspection, though Mr Clarke added: “Those prisoners who were destined to be held in detention under immigration powers at the conclusion of their sentence should have been told that this was going to happen sooner rather than later, and certainly not left until very close to the time when they anticipated that they would be released.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The prison was completely aware of the distinct needs of their population, although more needed to be done to understand the more negative perceptions of their treatment and conditions held by prisoners with protected characteristics. The establishment also needed support in terms of investment to get the fabric of the buildings back to an acceptable standard and facilities such as the sports hall restored.

A copy of the full report, published on 19 February 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Maidstone prison was originally built in 1819. The prison underwent a re-role in 2013 and is now a designated foreign national prison.

The unannounced inspection took place between 8 and 19 October 2018.

Prison Disturbances: tip of an iceberg?

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Government cuts to prisons sparked a disturbance involving around 40 inmates at a jail in Kent, the Prison Officers’ Association have warned – while another prisons expert said it was the tip of an iceberg.

Police and fire crews had to be deployed to Maidstone Prison when the trouble erupted in one of the wings.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed that it was resolved last night. It is believed to have lasted more than three hours.

A prison services spokeswoman said the incident had been resolved without any injuries to staff or prisoners.

There was no evidence of damage, she added.

“An investigation is under way and the perpetrators will be dealt with appropriately by the prison,” she said.

A second demonstration by prisoners at Rye Hill Prison, near Rugby in Warwickshire, was unrelated to the Maidstone incident, the prison services spokeswoman said.

“There was a passive demonstration at HMP Rye Hill where around 60 offenders refused to return to their cells,” she said.

“This was peacefully resolved within a few hours.”

Prison Officers Association vice chairman Ralph Valerio said the Maidstone Prison riot was in response to new regime changes and staff cuts that resulted in prisoners having to spend more times in their cells.

“Try to put yourself in the shoes of the offender – you find yourself spending more time locked up with less time to be able to call your family and less time to be able to have social interaction with the staff and with other offenders on that wing then it can have a detrimental effect,” he told Sky News.

“As a trade union we have been warning against this for some time.

“The prison system is going through a tremendous amount of change at a tremendous rate of pace and it’s a warning that the rate of change is unprecedented.”

Maidstone, with an inmate population of about 600, is a category C training prison that predominantly houses sex offenders from the Kent and Sussex areas.

The prison also takes in a number of foreign prisoners with more than 18 months to serve.

Rye Hills a category B training prison holding 664 men who have been sentenced to more than four years, and have at least 18 months left to serve.

Criminologist Professor David Wilson said prison guards probably enacted Operation Tornado to bring the latest riot under control.

It is a proven method using specialist officers that has been used many times before, he said.

“These are very well-tested systems and so it will be about trying to bring order back to HMP Maidstone,” he told Sky News.

“In these situations it’s usually a question of being some particular incident that ignites the prisoners who want to take this kind of action and sometimes that action gets out of control.”

Mr Valerio said the staff were well trained to deal with the situation.

“We have a contingency plan, the prison service is very, very good at dealing with these sorts of situations and the staff involved in that

The disturbances come just days after a clampdown on prison perks began to be rolled out.

Under changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, prisoners in England and Wales will have to earn privileges including the right to wear their own clothes.

Certificate 18-rated movies and subscription channels have also been banned from private prisons.

Mr Valerio said the government can expect to see more disruption across all prisons as a result of the scheme and budget cuts which have impacted staffing levels.

“Staff had been warning that unrest was growing among the prisoners at that prison,” he told the BBC.

“We can expect to see that no just at Maidstone but across the prison service in England and Wales.

“Prisons will potentially become more dangerous places as this scheme is rolled out.”

He said contact with staff is crucial for prisoners

A Prison Service spokeswoman added: “All our prisons run a safe and secure regime and are staffed appropriately.

“We are currently introducing reforms to the prison system that will provide better value for taxpayers while protecting the public and improving the chances of prisoners being rehabilitated.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners said reforms being introduced would spark unrest in jails across the country.

Mr Leech said: “The reforms which Grayling is introducing have nothing at all to do with better value for tax payers or increased rehabilitation for prisoners, they are about one thing and one thing only – appearing tough in order to be re-elected.

“Grayling is completely uneducated about prisons, he is risking the safety of prison officers and prisoners in a dangerous game of politics with our prisons and I have a dreadful fear that what we have seen at Rye Hill and Maidstone are just the tip of an iceberg of prisoner discontent across the prison system.”