Woodhill prison is in a “fragile state” with crippling staff shortages and far too many deaths.
A new report by the Independent Monitoring Board highlights the string of significant problems the prison has suffered over the past year.
The board was “deeply saddened” to report an unprecedented number of deaths – eight in the past 11 months.
“Added to this, the levels of assaults, violence and use of force continue to rise,” it stated.
But one of the biggest concerns was staff shortages, particularly the number of experienced staff members leaving.
The report states: “The reality is that staff have less time and know prisoners less well. This growing dependence on processes dehumanises prisoner contact. Tick boxes will never replace human interaction.”
Staff shortages have led to restricted regimes for many inmates and they are frequently confined to their cells.
“There are no incentives for improvements... cellular confinement is merely a punishment” said the report.
But the prison was praised for its rehabilitate culture and enabling environment, particularly when tackling the growing problem of prisoners’ use of psychoactive substances.
The board believes the use of these substances is closely linked with the rise of custody deaths and the increasing number of ‘near misses’.
The report stated: “Although Woodhill appears to be quite stable at the moment, the stability remains fragile.”
Woodhill has suffered a recruitment freeze over the past year. This, combined with staff sickness and voluntary redundancies, has led to severe staff shortages.
The prison is running at 20 per cent below its recommended staffing level. This has led to low morale and higher sickness levels among staff across the board.
Many prisoners are locked up in their cells for longer than necessary because there are too few staff to run a normal regime across the prison, states the IMB report.