09:04, October 17 104 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-17 09:04:03
Recent deaths at HMP Nottingham 'symptomatic of wider prison crisis'

Five newly arrived prisoners have died over a four-week period at Nottingham prison, where serious concerns have been raised about staffing levels in reception areas.

Ten prisoners have died in two years, compared with four deaths in the previous 10 years. Campaigners say the deaths are symptomatic of a prison system in crisis.

Four of the five inmates who died in September and October are believed to have taken their own lives. The death of the fifth prisoner is believed to be drug related.

Nottingham is a category B local prison, with a capacity of 1,060. It takes prisoners from courts in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

In its annual report, published in July, the independent monitoring board (IMB) at Nottingham expressed concerns about the 30% increase in prisoners arriving at the prison. The board said it had been told the number of staff for the reception area would be raised because of the increase in new arrivals, but the resources were not allocated.

The report said staff were rushed, which created an increased risk to prisoners in the reception, first night and induction areas. Four of the five latest deaths occurred in the first night centre and induction wing.

The IMB said it remained “concerned about the pressures on reception and the inherent risks to prisoners when vulnerable upon first entry to prison”.

Last year prison inspectors also raised concerns about new prisoners at Nottingham. In particular, they said first-night substance misuse work needed urgent attention. Inspectors also raised concerns about the lack of stability at the east Midland prison, noting there had been five governors in four years.

Seven prisoners have died at Nottingham so far this year. There were three deaths in 2016.

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, said the sudden and significant increase in deaths at Nottingham were deeply concerning and symptomatic of a prison system in crisis.

She said prison inspection and monitoring bodies had raised concerns about the regimes and conditions at the prison and that these issues had been left to reach crisis point, with tragic consequences.

“The fact these deaths occurred within days of arrival at the prison when prisoners are known to be most vulnerable, raise concerns about the processes for identifying and managing risk,” she said.

“The only way to halt the increasing and morally indefensible tide of prison deaths and violence is to dramatically reduce the prison population, invest in community alternatives and transform the nature and culture of prisons, so they become places of last resort, where rehabilitation is more than a rhetorical fantasy.”

A prison service spokesperson said transforming prisons into places of safety was its top priority and it was tackling the challenges head-on.

“HMP Nottingham is working closely with health colleagues to increase the support available to vulnerable prisoners and is increasing staffing levels which will boost safety and stability at the prison – an extra 40 prison officers have recently been recruited.

“The prison has put a number of measures in place to tackle the threat of drugs, and across the estate, we are also taking unprecedented action to stop the supply of drugs, including training over 300 specialist drug dogs and making it a criminal offence to possess psychoactive substances.”