A women’s prison has been rated safe despite half of inmates feeling ‘intimidated, bullied or victimised’ and some buildings needing urgent replacement.
Inspectors visited HMP Drake Hall, in Eccleshall, just weeks before the coronavirus lockdown and found most of its work was good.
Although prisoners generally welcomed their ‘high level of freedom’ – and even had a role in ‘running’ the place – the upshot was they had too little supervision from staff.
The report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons said this meant vulnerable woman weren’t always adequately protected and some bullying incidents went unnoticed.
Other concerns included drugs being ‘easily available’ and women at the open unit feeling pressured to sneak in illicit substances when returning from work outside the prison.
StokeonTrentLive highlighted last year how some prisoners at Drake Hall were also being housed in Second World War prefabs that were so poor they had damp and mould.
Now Peter Clarke, chief inspector of prisons, has expressed his ‘disappointment’ that Government resources have still not been committed to replacing the two affected units.
He said: “Some refurbishment to the showers had been made, but it is our view that these two buildings were not fit for purpose.”
The rest of the living conditions, which were mostly rebuilt in the mid-1990s, have been described as ‘reasonable’.
In his report commentary, Mr Clarke summed up the prison as ‘a safe place to live with hardly any serious violence’. He added: “Prisoners were positive about the community ethos.”
Figures show there have been 16 assaults and four fights in one six-month period, but only one of these incidents was classed as serious.
Self-harm levels have also been low. Drake Hall holds weekly safety intervention meetings to review prisoners of concern. It is also planning to train more inmates as ‘listeners’ so they can offer confidential peer support.
Improvements since the last inspection in 2016 include the healthcare provision. Inmates have good access to a range of primary care services, including a female GP, along with specialist counselling.
And with education activities, their attendance and achievement levels have both been high.
The report said: “The vocational curriculum, and the majority of job roles that prisoners had, enabled them to gain useful and relevant knowledge, skills and qualifications, helping them prepare for employment on release.”
But access to the prison library and PE had been ‘curtailed due to staffing issues’.
Other strengths highlighted by the inspectors included an ‘excellent’ unit, where women could stay overnight with their children on occasions.
Phil Copple, director general of prisons for HM Prison and Probation Service, said: “The governor and his staff have achieved something truly impressive at Drake Hall – it is a safe prison where women learn and work, have good relationships with staff, maintain ties with their families and receive specialist counselling treatment.”
Drake Hall, which had 324 inmates at the time of the inspection, caters for female youth offenders and adult prisoners.