Widespread drug use a lack of staffing for rehabilitation schemes have seen prisoners’ anxiety levels rising and the number of attacks on staff at HMP High Down and fellow inmates increasing, a new report has found.

Prisoner attacks on staff nearly doubled in 2016 (from 47 to 89 year-on-year), and occasions when officers had to use force rose (72 in June to November 2015 to 92 in June to November the year after), the prison’s independent monitoring board reported this month.

From December 2016: Inmate 'covered up CCTV cameras and held razor blade to prison officer's throat' at HMP High Down

More prisoners were transferred from the prison last year (27) to mental health facilities, including Broadmoor special hospital, than in 2015 (19), and the number of incidents when prisoners self-harmed rose from 281 in 2015 to 313 last year.

The Prison Service was forced to launch a recruitment drive at the prison on the border of Banstead and Sutton, offering staff higher wages, following “the loss of experienced staff, many of whom have left the service,” according to the IMB.

The loss of staff led to “decreasing levels of morale”, and the imposition of a “restricted regime for safety reasons” and reducing the time prisoners were able to spend out of cell.

From March 2016: Father fears overcrowding, poor hygiene, and lack of exercise and rehabilitation in HMP High Down is turning prisoner son into a "nutcase"

Inmates typically spent 22 hours a day behind bars, limiting the chances of rehabilitation, the father of an inmate at the prisoner told the Epsom Guardian last year.

The IMB – a panel of members of the public who work to ensure prisoners are treated with fairness and decency – also noted there were “sporadic improvements in purposeful activity and time out of cell” and that the appointment of a permanent governor and deputy in May 2016 had brought a “gradual stabilising effect on High Down”.

Prisoners were also able to get “basic decency items” such as kettles and pillows with increased ease after the governor’s appointment.

From April 2016: Independent prison inspectors discover drug-fuelled violence and rehabilitation programmes hindered by a lack of staffing at HMP High Down

The IMB’s chair, Sue Bird, wrote: “As reported in 2015, the board is still of the opinion that there is a casual connection between the general frustration and violence towards fellow prisoners and officers.

“The increase in violence is symptomatic of a national prison issue.”

Sutton Guardian:

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We are committed to transforming prisons into places of safety and reform and have announced a major overhaul of the prison system including 2,500 extra frontline officers.

“HMP High Down is one of 31 sites receiving support for a targeted local recruitment campaign. Staff are also in line for a £5,000 pay boost to help increase staffing levels. The prison also received a share of the additional £10m funding announced to increase prison safety.

“Since the inspection, the prison has made significant improvements in supporting prisoners’ attendance in work, education and resettlement programmes.”

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