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Sheppey: Independent Monitoring Board report into HMP Swaleside

By Chloe Holmwood

A shortage of prison staff and increasing drugs use and violence are still a major concern for inspectors who visited a Kent jail.

The Independent Monitoring Board’s (IMB) latest report into HMP Swaleside found rising levels of disruption.

Between May 2016 and April this year, there were 161 prisoner-on-prisoner attacks and 79 prisoner-on-staff, some of which were serious.

Defendants who don't declare their nationality could be jailed. Picture: Thinkstock Image Library
Defendants who don't declare their nationality could be jailed. Picture: Thinkstock Image Library

In its findings at the category B prison, which has more than 1,000 inmates, the 11-strong board said the violence had been linked to increased finds of drugs and weapons.

The report states: “What is inescapable is an unacceptable escalation of instability in the prison, continuation of assaults by prisoners on both staff and prisoners and the increased use of both drugs and weapons as evidenced by the number of ‘finds’ by the staff.”

It added: “Weapons, including blades fashioned in many different ways, are frequently found by staff and are also, unfortunately, used in assaults.

"This, together with Hooch (alcohol made from remains of fruit) and drugs, is the cause of much of the instability within the prison.”

The board commended Swaleside’s senior management team for its continued efforts to improve the regime, to give staff and prisoners more certainty in their everyday activities.

“This has been achieved against a background of major permanent staff shortages, working with detached duty staff and with an exceptionally high sickness rate (some 42 staff),” it added.

HMP Swaleside
HMP Swaleside

“In recent months, this situation has been turned around radically with sickness figures now generally below 10, a reasonable number of recruits joining the staff and permanent staff shortage reduced although remaining a major concern.”

During the year, staff shortages led to 232 hospital appointments being missed due to a lack of escort staff.

Concern over pressure being placed on prisoners to convert to Islam continues.

“The high number of Muslim prisoners within the establishment has led to allegations of radicalisation and attempts by some of them to persuade other prisoners to convert,” said the report.

“The chaplaincy monitor this situation very closely and staff are reminded to listen out for problems of this nature on a regular basis.”

There were four deaths in custody, one of which is thought to be from natural causes.

Memorial services were held in the prison for those who died in custody and three weddings have taken place.

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