A report has found that Bath’s closest prison is “very well run” and treats prisoners “decently and humanely”.
HMP Ashfield was visited by the Independent Monitoring Board on twice weekly visits over a 12-month period to talk to prisoners and staff, as well as inspecting facilities and activities.
The judges concluded in the report, published today (October 2) that HMP Ashfield “takes its responsibilities very seriously” both to the general public and to the prisoners in its care.
“Overall, the board judges HMP Ashfield to be a very well-run prison, which is led dynamically and uses its greater autonomy afforded by its contracted-out status to develop creative and imaginative solutions to issues,” it reads.
The report highlights that the prison is “safe and secure” and judges found many aspects of health provision to be “excellent”, with “very low levels” of self-harm among prisoners.
Having expressed reservations about how well prisoners are prepared for release, board judges now believe the prison, run by SERCO, to be “good and improving” in this area.
Board members were also impressed by the overall quality of accommodation, the prison's Equality agenda and the range of vocational training and employment opportunities.
The report says prisoners “generally behave in an orderly manner and are polite”, which allowed staff-prisoner relations to be “relatively informal”.
Instances of prisoner on prisoner violence at HMP Ashfield are “very low”, according to the report, while verbal abuse or physical assaults are rare and dealt with “effectively”.
“It is the Board's view that all areas of the site provide an overwhelmingly safe environment for both prisoners and staff. Health & Safety are taken seriously,” the reports says.
“There is a well-publicised Anti-Bullying Strategy: bullying is infrequent and, when detected, addressed appropriately.
“There is no evidence of smuggling in, or bullying for mobile phones or drugs.”
The report reveals a complete ban on personal DVDs, but prisoners can borrow security-approved DVDs from the library.
Three Deaths in Custody were recorded between July 2016 and June 2017, two of which were men with long-standing complex medical conditions.
The third death is currently under investigation, but prisoners commented to the IMB on how well they felt the prison had handled matters.
The report adds that the board “very rarely” encountered evidence of tension between prisoners on racial, religious, age or sexual orientation grounds.
Other highlights from the report included the successful implementation of a non-smoking regime and the delivery of sex offender treatment programmes before the Government announced their withdrawal nationally in March 2017.
Prisoners also frequently commented to Board members that the standards of healthcare and catering at Ashfield were the best they had encountered within the prison service.
The report said: “It is the Board's view that the overall standard of accommodation at HMP Ashfield is very good indeed, and well above that experienced by many prisoners elsewhere.”
Board members noted the positive atmosphere on the wings and the report said: “HMP Ashfield provides a particularly safe, orderly, stable and supportive environment and it is to be commended on this. This is one of the prison's strengths.”
The board did have some concerns about shower and laundry arrangements and the lack of specialist training for staff in a prison with a high percentage of elderly prisoners.
Another concern was raised about the operation of the Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme, which is used to reward good behaviour and also penalise men for disciplinary infringements.
The IMB also highlighted the difficulty often experienced by prisoners re-categorised as suitable for Open (Cat D) conditions in finding places in establishments of an appropriate category in the south of England.
Overall, however, the report was very positive and complimentary.
Chair of the Board, Caroline Thompson, said: “Ashfield is to be congratulated. It is very unusual, especially at the moment when so much of the prison estate is in crisis, for a prison to receive such a complimentary report as this.
“Board members remain impressed with the professionalism and dedication of all the staff who work at Ashfield.
“Prisoners here are often serving long sentences for very serious offences, but they are treated humanely and with respect and given help to rehabilitate."
Source: Bath Chronicle