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11 Apr 2017

Howard League responds to Guys Marsh prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Guys Marsh prison in Dorset, published today (Tuesday 11 April).

When Guys Marsh was inspected in 2014, inspectors concluded that it was a prison in crisis where staff had all but lost control.

Today’s report is based on a follow-up inspection, conducted in December 2016, of which the prison had been given six months’ notice. Inspectors found that Guys Marsh continued to fail in almost every area.

The prison was overcrowded – designed to accommodate 518 men, but actually holding 543 – and it remained a dangerous place. One in four prisoners said that they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, and about half said that they had felt unsafe at some point during their time there. Three men had lost their lives through suicide since the previous inspection.

Assaults on staff had tripled since the last inspection, and assaults on prisoners had risen by two-thirds. Violence was much more common in Guys Marsh than in comparable prisons, and many prisoners were seeking sanctuary or refusing to come out of their cells for their own protection. One of the wings acted as a permanent sanctuary for those fearing for their own safety.

About three in four men said that it was easy to get drugs. One in four said that they had a developed a drug problem while in the prison. Spice was widely used.

The prison was dirty. Many cells had window panes missing, and prisoners struggled to get basics like bedding, kit and cleaning materials.

Too many prisoners were released without somewhere suitable to live.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Guys Marsh prison was given six months’ notice that inspectors were coming, and yet it was still found to be failing in almost every respect. Every warning light on the dashboard is flashing, as is the case across the prison system.

“This is a dirty, overcrowded prison where men can get drugs easily but cannot get bedding. Where there are drugs there is debt, and where there is debt there is violence. This is the third prison inspection report in six weeks to describe men being so frightened for their safety that they refuse to leave their cells.

 “The Howard League is offering solutions. We have shown ministers how, by taking bold but sensible action to reduce the number of people in prison, we can prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. A copy of the Guys Marsh inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.


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