Drugs 'readily available' at Wiltshire prison, report finds

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Erlestoke Prison governor Tim Knight. Photo: Diane Vose.
Erlestoke Prison governor Tim Knight. Photo: Diane Vose.

Inspectors have said progress at a Wiltshire prison is “encouraging” after a recent review - despite more than a third testing positive for drugs.

Erlestoke prison was found to be “not sufficiently” good in a range of areas after an inspection last year.

Safety issues, poor living conditions and a lack of purposeful relationships between staff and prisoners were cited among a range of failings.

But returning in May this year, HM Inspectorate of Prisons found managers at Erlestoke had made a “serious attempt” to address growing concerns, with reasonable or good progress in all but two areas.

Chief Inspector Charlie Taylor said that leadership was improving, adding: “After a few years when Erlestoke had not been moving in the right direction, it was encouraging to see that it was now doing so across most areas.

“There is no reason why these improvements should be embedded, if the resourcing in key areas and the leadership momentum can be sustained.”

But inspectors did raise concerns over the prison’s security, noting that mandatory drug testing in March found that 39.13 per cent of prisoners tested positive.

“This indicated that illicit drugs were readily available at the establishment, and prisoners confirmed this to us,” Chief Inspector Taylor wrote in the report.

“Given the rural location of the prison and the long perimeter, items were thrown over the wall regularly. Managers worked well with the police when this occurred, and work to tackle staff corruption was also good.”

The prison had also introduced a machine to detect drugs in mail and a body scanner to combat trafficking.

The Class C prison also made insufficient progress against a recommendation to support staff to positively engage with prisoners and challenge poor behaviour.

It found that “low-level rule-breaking”, including loud music and vaping, was going unchallenged.

But improvements had been made in supporting prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm. A newly appointed head of safety had driven forward advances in the quality of the assessment, care in custody, and teamwork process for this group of prisoners.

The jail was generally much cleaner than in previous inspections, and a ‘clean and decent’ lead manager had been appointed to improve oversight. A new regime meant prisoners were able to spend more time out of their cell and more were engaged in constructive activity.

The report also found that prisoner-on-staff assaults at Erlestoke had reduced, but prisoner-on-prisoner assaults had increased – something expected as Covid restrictions were lifted.

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