Inmates at Winchester prison dug through walls with plastic cutlery, IMB report finds

22 May 2024, 08:20 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 12:30

The condition of some prison facilities in England and Wales has become so dire prisoners were able to dig through walls using plastic cutlery, a damning report has found.

The latest annual assessment by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) found that population pressures and overcrowding caused "tremendous strain" on every area of adult prison life.

It said Victorian prisons - like HMP Winchester - were in a "particularly dire" condition due to the age of the buildings and the fact they have a reception function, where inmates first enter the prison system.

Due to this, keeping facilities "functional and decent" was more difficult, the report said.

"At Winchester, there were several occasions throughout the year when prisoners were able to damage and attempt to dig through cell walls, on one occasion through the wall to the landing, using simple implements such as plastic cutlery," the report said.

It said Winchester IMB reported "crumbling walls and roofs" leading to leaks, flooding and slip hazards.

Ahead of the report being published, IMB chair Elisabeth Davies said she thinks all Victorian prisons should be closed, but added problems with infrastructure also affect more modern prisons.

The IMB found design faults and unacceptable facilities at Five Wells in Northamptonshire, which was built in 2022.

'Inhumane conditions'

Other key findings of the report said a lack of in-cell sanitation meant some prisoners at Coldingley, Isle of Wight, Grendon, Long Lartin and Bristol prisons were living in "unacceptable conditions".

The report said "some IMBs described living conditions as inhumane" while mental health services inside facilities were "strained" to meet the high level of need, particularly in women's prisons.

In February, a prisons watchdog report revealed that a Victorian jail - HMP Bedford - was infested with rats and cockroaches.

Inmates at the category B prison, which can hold 400 inmates, "regularly saw vermin" and resorted to "creating their own barriers to prevent vermin from coming into their cells", according to the report.

Detailing the problems when the findings were published, chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor said: "Some of the accommodation in Bedford was the worst I have seen."

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Mr Taylor issued a call for 24,000 more prison places by 2028, saying there "simply isn't enough space" despite "frantic" attempts to increase capacity with temporary accommodation and two new jails.

The government has also come under pressure over reported plans to release some offenders from their sentences up to 70 days early to ease overcrowding.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We are delivering an additional 20,000 modern prison places - including opening two new prisons in two years - to help rehabilitate offenders and keep our streets safe.

"At the same time, we're investing unprecedented amounts in education, employment and other support to put more offenders on the straight and narrow, and our £100m security crackdown including measures such as X-ray body scanners and specialist sniffer dogs is helping stop more of the contraband that fuels violence behind bars."