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Vandalism, drugs and violence: Damning report reveals issues at Featherstone Prison

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Vandalised cells, widespread drug use, bullying and violent prisoners are among the issues laid bare in a report on Featherstone Prison today.

The Independent Monitoring Board report on the jail, near Wolverhampton, says a lack of staff is having a serious impact.

South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson last night described the report as 'shocking and disturbing'.

It reveals:

  • Drug use is rife across the prison
  • The use of weapons has increased over the last year
  • Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused to one unit by disruptive prisoners
  • Staff shortages have led to hospital appointments and gym classes being cancelled
  • Prisoners’ property has gone missing on 26 occasions in the past year

Drugs are said to be widely used, with psychoactive substances and synthetic cannabis like Black Mamba described as a 'major problem' in the report.

Security and the use of intelligence have been stepped up to reduce the amount of drugs in the prison, although drug testing has been reduced in the last year due to staff shortages.

The report added: "The extent of the ingress of illegal substances concerns the Board because of its effect on prisoner behaviour, with debt and consequent bullying being ongoing issues."

The report, which covers the period from November 2013 to October 2014, raised concerns that the use of weapons in the prison had increased, although the prison's Safer Custody Group was said to be working hard to try and reduce the number of incidents.

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According to the report the Care and Separation Unit (CSU) – a segregation wing where violent prisoners are sent as punishment – was not sufficiently staffed. This meant that at times the wing did not have the required number of staff to lock away violent prisoners.

A number of cells in the Care and Separation Unit (CSU) were repeatedly vandalised by disruptive prisoners, leading to the prison forking out thousands of pounds in repair costs.

It is the second year running that expensive repairs have been carried out on the wing. The prison now operates a policy of charging prisoners causing damage with the cost of repairs.

Some prisoners had to be held in other units while their damaged cells were repaired, the report added.

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Other prisoners try to stay in the unit longer than necessary as they fear reprisals over debts on open wings, according to the report.

The lack of staff also resulted in gym activities being cut.

Prisoners' property going astray during transfers from other prisons was highlighted as a key area for concern in the report, with hundreds of pounds paid out in compensation.

Healthcare services at the prison have been adversely affected due to vacancies and sickness absence, according to the report.

This has forced hospital appointments to be cancelled due to a lack of available escorts, important staff meetings to be scrapped and complaints procedures stalling.

Featherstone is one of a number of jails in the West Midlands to be blighted by staff shortages. Across the region there are 700 fewer workers in place than are required.

Last year prison management at Featherstone were given a vote of no confidence by staff who said they feared for their safety due to low numbers.

Gavin Williamson, MP for South Staffordshire, said: "This is a shocking and disturbing report that should serve as a clear wake up call to prison management and the Ministry of Justice. The report has highlighted concerns about the operation that a number of people have raised in the past.

"It is vital there are enough staff to make sure the prison can run properly."

Despite staff shortages, the report said the prison continues to exhibit a clear sense of direction and purpose.

Featherstone's governor Deborah Butler is due to move to Stafford Prison in the coming weeks after five years in the post. The Prison Service has stressed the move is nothing to do with a vote of no confidence called amid concerns over staffing levels.

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