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14 Mar 2017

Howard League responds to Swinfen Hall prison inspection

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Swinfen Hall prison in Staffordshire, published today (Tuesday 14 March).

Inspectors visited Swinfen Hall, which holds 600 young men aged 18 to 25, in October and November last year. They found that almost all aspects of the prison had deteriorated significantly since the previous inspection in 2014.

The prison was no longer safe, and violence had risen. In the six months before the inspection, there had been 79 assaults on prisoners and 24 on staff, as well as 60 fights. Some prisoners would not come out of their cells because they felt unsafe.

During the six months before inspectors visited the prison, staff used force 180 times – a 45 per cent rise on the same period prior to the previous inspection. Some officers, particularly those with less experience, were drawing batons to resolve incidents where there were not enough staff to intervene.

Prisoners lived in cramped, dirty cells. Many cells had windows without glass, leaving young men exposed to the elements. Although prisoners had to eat all meals inside their cells, some lacked basic equipment, including tables and chairs.

Many young men had to wait four days between showers. Shortages of prison clothing meant that young men had to wear garments that were dirty or did not fit.

Meanwhile, almost half of prisoners said that it was easy to get illegal drugs, and one in five said that they had developed a drug problem while at Swinfen Hall.

During the inspection, almost half of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day.

The inspection team found that too many staff lacked care, had low expectations of prisoners and allowed poor behaviour.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “I have never seen a public service deteriorate so rapidly and so profoundly as the prison system in the last five years. It is now a national emergency. Each inspection report is worse than the last, and this cannot be allowed to continue.

“Today, for the second time in as many weeks, we read of a prison where men are so frightened for their safety because of rising violence that they are refusing to come out of their cells. Many prisons are overcrowded, but Swinfen Hall is not, which makes this report particularly concerning.

“It is scandalous that the young men in Swinfen Hall find it easier to get drugs than showers. Their clothes are dirty. Their cells are squalid. They spend the working day cooped up in filth. What hope do they have on release?

“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.”

The Howard League’s free advice line – the only confidential legal service available to children and young adults for help about their incarceration – has received a large number of calls about issues arising in Swinfen Hall, such as concerns about safety, violence, and requests to be transferred to other prisons.

The Howard League is also concerned at the high number of additional days’ imprisonment imposed on young men in Swinfen Hall as punishment for breaking prison rules.

Research by the charity has found that the total number of additional days given to prisoners in Swinfen Hall rose from 3,216 in 2014 to 4,024 in 2015. Today’s report confirms that the number of adjudications – disciplinary hearings where allegations of rule-breaking are tried – has risen by 83 per cent since the prison’s previous inspection in 2014.

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 Swinfen Hall inspection report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from Tuesday 14 March.
  1. A Million Days: The world of prison discipline, a Howard League report on the imposition of additional days’ imprisonment following adjudications, can be read online.


Rob Preece
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