Prison protests rise at HMP Whitemoor over a year, figures reveal

Prison officers returning to work today at Whitemoor after protesting outside the jail since 7am in

Prison officers returning to work today at Whitemoor after protesting outside the jail since 7am in September this year. PHOTO: Clare Butler - Credit: Archant

The number of protests at Whitemoor Prison has gone up over the past year, figures show.

HM Prison and Probation Service data shows that Whitemoor prisoners rebelled against officers 30 times in 2017-18, up from 24 the previous year.

That’s an increase of 25 per cent, with experts warning that a high number of protesting prisoners could be a symptom of a “failing prison”.

In prisons across England and Wales there were a total of 6,719 protests in 2017-18, a 19 per cent rise on the previous year.

According to HMPPS, there are four types of protesting behaviour: barricades, hostage incidents, concerted indiscipline and incidents at height.

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The most common type across England and Wales are incidents at height, which involve any disorderly situation that takes place above the ground. There were 23 recorded incidents at height at Whitemoor last year.

Common examples of an incident at height include prisoners climbing onto safety netting, onto portacabins or up trees.

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Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust and a former governor of High Down Prison in Surrey, said grievances that cause protests are mostly “day-to-day things”, like not having access to medication, not being let out of cells at the right time or not getting clean clothing on a regular basis.

He said that a lack of staff has a “knock-on effect” on the day-to-day running of the rest of the prison, which can cause prisoners to become frustrated and increases the likelihood of protest incidents.

He added: “The solution is all about nipping things in the bud. Often these things have started with something that could be solved with a single phone call.”

The Prison Reform Trust said that prisons have formal systems for dealing with complaints, with avenues of appeal and the option to take a complaint to the Prison Ombudsman if the person is not happy with the outcome.

At Whitemoor there were two recorded incidents last year when prisoners barricaded themselves in their cells, blocked doors or prevented staff from accessing areas in the prison. Over the past five years, 19 such incidents were recorded.

Last year there were also four recorded incidents of concerted indiscipline, defined as two or more prisoners defying instructions from officers or deliberately refusing to comply with requests.

There was one hostage situation - which involve prisoners holding one or more people against their will.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said that protesting behaviour is a “sign of desperation”.

Chief executive Frances Crook said: “Someone could barricade themselves in their cell because they are terrified of violence levels on the wing, or because they want to harm themselves.”

She said that a low number of recorded incidents may not be an indicator of a prison doing well.

She added: “It depends on how things are recorded by prison staff. They could try to downplay problems in the prison by under-recording incidents, or exaggerate reports to try and show that they’re under pressure.”

HMPPS said that they have recruited an extra 3,500 prison officers over the last two years.

It said an additional £40 million was being invested to “tackle the drugs and mobile phones which frequently fuel bad behaviour.”

A prison service spokesperson said: “We do not tolerate indiscipline, and anyone breaking the rules faces extra time behind bars.”

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