Goudhurst: Blantyre Jail Criticised In Report

A Kent MP has called for an urgent response to a critical report into a prison with "unprecedented problems with drugs, bullying and violence''.

Tunbridge Wells Tory MP Greg Clark said he is "extremely concerned'' by the disclosures about HMP Blantyre House in Goudhurst in an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) annual report.

In the past year there have been two stabbings, a sex assault and a self-inflicted death. Seven men absconded and five committed crimes while released on temporary licence, it said.

The report also noted problems with the use of the "legal high'' Spice in the category C/D semi-open resettlement prison which can house 122 inmates.

Spice can be bought in shops in nearby Maidstone, resulting in some men running up debts to dealers in the prison, leading to bullying and intimidation.

"Men who want no part in drug use have commented to the IMB that the House (accommodation block) is 'scary' at times,'' the report said.

"Latterly, it has come to light that some men have taken prescription drugs with 'Spice', causing them to become extremely ill.''

A total of 25 men were returned to closed prison conditions, staff morale has hit "rock bottom'' and the IMB said there have been times when it has been "deeply concerned'' about the jail.

"The past year has been exceptionally difficult for (Blantyre House), due to a number of factors'', it said.

"The increase in difficult prisoners has had implications for security both inside and outside the prison.

"It is regrettable that a prison which offers such outstandingly good opportunities to men who want to be assisted in their resettlement is being degraded by those who are unsuited to the regime.

"As noted in previous reports, (Blantyre House) is now attempting to manage a difficult population, and despite the prison's best efforts at filtering out unsuitable candidates, there have been unprecedented problems with drugs, bullying and violence.''

The IMB praised the dedication of some staff who helped men who were unwilling to co-operate with the regime and work towards their resettlement achieve good results.

Although the proportion of men released into work was 60%, below the 75% target, it is deemed to be a good result in difficult economic times.

Mr Clark has written to Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright and Blantyre House governor James Bourke highlighting his concerns.

"I am extremely concerned about the report just published by the Independent Monitoring Board for HMP Blantyre House,'' he said in his letter.

"Blantyre House has always been a highly successful resettlement prison. However, this report suggests that this positive contribution to prisoner rehabilitation and the safety of the local community has been seriously compromised.

"The picture this presents of the prison is alarming - this situation requires an urgent response.''

A Prison Service spokesman said: "Assault and abscond levels at HMP Blantyre House are among the lowest in the prison estate, and the number of offenders spending their sentences doing constructive work has increased in recent months. This will help them find a job on release and reduce the chances of them reoffending.

"However, we are not complacent and will take action against anyone who threatens the safety and security of our prisons. We use a range of measures to keep illicit items out of prisons and will sanction anyone who is violent, with serious cases referred to the police for prosecution.

"This report will now be considered fully by ministers who will respond in due course.''