Concerns raised around prison's drugs and violence

A prison officers lets two prisoners, both wearing grey tracksuits, through a barred door into another section of the prison
The prison has housed foreign nationals since 2012 [getty]

Inspectors have raised concerns around increased levels of violence, drugs, and the state of buildings at a prison.

Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) also said HMP Huntercombe's leaking healthcare facility was not fit for purpose, though it said the prison was a safe environment as a whole.

The prison, near Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, has housed foreign nationals since 2012.

The Prison Service said improvements were being made and that the healthcare building had been demolished, with staff moved to an alternative location.

The IMB's most recent annual report highlighted repeated and "unacceptable" problems with the 520-capacity prison's heating and hot water, which it said took up a "great deal of senior staff time" and a "significant amount of public money".

It also cited issues with ageing cell window mechanisms, many of which were broken, meaning window grilles had to be open or closed all the time, causing frustration in hot or cold weather.

It said the healthcare team worked well but noted there were several vacancies in the team covered by agency staff.

Other issues raised were around prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff assaults.

On average, there were five violent incidents each month in 2023, the same as the previous year.

The report found there was evidence of alcohol being illicitly brewed in the prison, which "occupies the time of several prisoners".

The IMB was also concerned about the "level of illicit items and drugs" entering the prison, and the number of prisoners "who appear to be under the influence of known and unknown substances".

However, the board said it observed a "positive relationship between staff and prisoners on all wings".

It welcomed the news that it had opened a new kitchen, providing a more varied food service.

The old kitchen was refurbished as a multi-faith centre, "which will have a positive effect for prisoners where there is space pressure for Friday prayers", the report said.

The prison holds inmates of 80 nationalities and 18 religions. Most are expected to be deported to their country of origin.

The jail has been holding weekly safety intervention meetings to help manage prisoners with challenging behaviour.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: "This report highlights the hard work of our dedicated staff at HMP Huntercombe in keeping the prison safe, supporting the most vulnerable prisoners and dealing with violent incidents professionally.

"But we know more needs to be done. That’s why we’re replacing boilers and heating, and improving security measures to stop illegal items that fuel violence entering the prison."

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