Downview due to reopen as male prison in October
A women's prison which was closed, despite making significant improvements last year, is due to re-open for male prisoners in October.
Last September, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced that Downview, on the border between Banstead and Sutton, would be closed and "re-roled" to house male prisoners due to a surplus in the number of places for women elsewhere and the need for more spaces for male prisoners.
Its prisoners were transferred last October and most of its staff moved to prisons in London, where they remain temporarily. Some staff are still working in Downview, which is undergoing renovation work to make the necessary changes to convert it into a male prison.
The MoJ said today that the prison is due to re-open in October - but it cannot yet confirm which category of prisoners it will hold or whether all of its existing staff members will be retained.
Downview was inspected by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), during 332 visits, from January to December last year.
It published a glowing report on the prison this month, in stark contrast to its report on neighbouring High Down, published in March, which said the male prison had a dreadful year and had been "pared to the bone and beyond" with staff cuts, prisoners left in locked cells for protracted periods and serious concerns over rehabilitation.
The IMB said Downview had made many improvements in its last year.
It said: "The prisoners were treated with decency and respect in a calm atmosphere and almost all of them were kept busy with purposeful activity."
Healthcare was deemed of a high standard and the IMB noted improvements in the prison’s education, training and employment functions.
But it added: "The ‘core day’ allowance of only 24 hours per week for out-of-cell education and work is nothing like enough and recommends the whole concept is reviewed."
It said that although Downview planned the transfer of prisoners well, it said it was rushed by the "sudden decision to empty the prison a month early".
Last March, the IMB raised serious concerns that one in seven inmates at Downview were suspected of using, supplying or carrying drugs but the report said measures had been taken to reduce the availability and use of drugs.
It found the Drug Supply Reduction Group worked to search outside workers and incoming post, and conducted cell searches and closed visits for prisoners where intelligence deemed these necessary.
It said the abuse of prescribed, as well as illegal, drugs was "a large part of the problem".
Downview’s Josephine Butler Juvenile Unit was also closed at the end of last August due to declining numbers.
The MoJ said there will be "opportunities to share facilities for economies of scale" with High Down prison, next door, when Downview re-opens, but that the two prisons will not be merged.
A Prison Service spokesperson added: "We need a modern, fit-for-purpose estate, which provides prison accommodation at a much lower cost to the taxpayer, and in the right places, to deliver our ambition of reducing reoffending."
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