Conditions at a Victorian prison are so poor that inmates at risk of suicide have been held in a “grim” poorly ventilated cell that sits opposite a “dirty protest” room, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.
In a damning inspection report on Lincoln prison, Nick Hardwick said “too many” inmates at risk of suicide or self-harm had been held in a segregation unit. There was often no record of the “exceptional circumstances” required to justify such a move, inspectors found.
“There was very little for these men to do that provided positive distraction. The constant observation cell in the segregation unit was particularly grim – dark, poorly ventilated and situated opposite the dirty protest cell,” Hardwick wrote.
The chief inspector of prisons welcomed the fact the segregation unit is to “shortly be replaced”. He recommended that segregation is only used “as a last resort” for prisoners in mental health crisis and said that the constant observation cell should not be used.
Other findings related to mental health care in the report included:
- There was a “significant shortage” of trained listeners (inmates trained to support those at risk of self-harm) at the prison.
- Problems with poor phone signal were affecting prisoners’ access to a Samaritans direct helpline that had been set up for people in crisis.
- There was variation in the quality of crisis care planning.
The report also identified shortfalls in safeguarding adults practices. Protocols that set out actions for staff to take if they had concerns that adults were at risk “were not clear” and awareness training for teams “had not been planned”.
“There were no formal links between the prison and community safeguarding board to review current practices and to identify the threshold where formal adult protection protocols would be brought in,” the report said.
“Up-to-date local advice about safeguarding adults was not accessible, and staff were not aware of how to make referrals.”
The report also warned that the prison was “not safe” and “dirty”. Hardwick cites a “shocking” case where two foreign national prisoners had been kept in jail for long periods beyond the end of their sentences, one for nine years.