Concern Over 'Excessive Force' At March Prison

An inspection of Cambridgeshire's Whitemoor Prison has raised concerns about staff using excessive force on inmates.

Inspectors say they were also worried written records of these incidents were different to those portrayed CCTV coverage.

A report following the surprise inspection states: "While use of force was low, oversight arrangements were poor and in a small number of cases, there was little use of de-escalation and evidence of excessive force being used; and the segregation regime for a number of long-stay residents remained particularly poor."

HMP Whitemoor held 454 adult men at the time of the inspection, all of whom were serving long or indeterminate sentences for very serious offences.

However inspectors did praise several aspects of the prison near March, including:

  • Prisoners at risk of self-harm were generally well supported.
  • Security arrangements were appropriately stringent and illicit use of substances was well controlled.
  • Support for those with substance misuse problems was very good.
  • Living conditions were generally good.
  • In general relationships between staff and prisoners had continued to improve, although a small number of staff remained more distant.
  • Time out of cell was reasonable and vocational training opportunities were good.
  • All prisoners had good support from offender supervisors, public protection issues were very good and a range of offending behaviour courses appropriate to the population was offered.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said: "Overall Whitemoor was a safe, respectful and purposeful prison which provided some constructive opportunities for prisoners serving long sentences to address their offending behaviour.

However, we had real concerns about the management and application of use of force and segregation which impacted negatively on some of the most vulnerable prisoners in the population, and which were a significant exception to this generally positive picture. 

The prison was doing some good work to manage its very diverse population and to understand and address the concerns of the significant number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners held. 

However, this remained a major challenge that needed a consistent high level of attention.

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said: "Whitemoor manages very challenging and long-term prisoners so it is pleasing that the Chief Inspector has recognised the safe and purposeful environment it provides and the Governor and his staff deserve credit for their hard work in achieving this.

They will now use the recommendations in the report to address the areas of improvement identified."

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