A damning report has found that facilities at one out of ten prisons in England are barely fit for purpose, according to a report by inspectors.

The IMB is the independent monitoring boards which audit prison treatment, after the chief inspector of prisons had said one in 10 facilities was barely fit for purpose. The latest report found that conditions in Victorian prisons were particularly bad.

It said that conditions in such prisons were 'exacerbated' by having a reception function, making it more difficult to maintain cells to an acceptable standard.

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One of the prisons mentioned in the report was Winchester, where Winchester IMB reported crumbling walls and roofs all over the prison, leading to leaks, flooding and slip hazards.

In some prisons, maintenance was delayed even when it gave rise to security concerns. In Winchester, there were several occasions throughout the year where prisoners were able to damage and attempt to dig through cell walls, on one occasion through the wall to the landing using implements like plastic cutlery.

Winchester was also mentioned in the report with regard to CSUs, abbreviated from care and separation units. Several boards, such as Winchester, reported that the CSUs were regularly full, with prisons segregated in cell confinement on the wings instead.

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CSUs were too often filled with prisoners with severe mental health needs. These prisoners could spend long periods in segregation, frequently more than 100 days because prison and healthcare staff were unable to arrange for them to be moved to a more suitable location.

There was also concern that many prisons were being released as homeless, which was especially common for remand prisoners. HMP Pentonville, HMP Hewell and HMP Winchester all reported rates of men released without accommodation of between 40 per cent and 50 per cent. Hewell IMB reported that prison staff felt it necessary to equip men who were being released homeless with warm clothing.

The women’s estate faced similar challenges, mostly due to shortages of probation staff and the difficulties around liaison between a complex network of agencies. At Bronzefield, a survey carried out by the IMB in February/March 2023 showed that only 28 per cent of women were released to sustainable accommodation, and 31 per cent were released homeless.

Elisabeth Davies, the chairwoman of the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB), was asked whether Victorian jails should be closed as a way of solving issues with prison infrastructure.

Speaking at a briefing ahead of the publication of the IMB’s National Annual Report on the state of prison and immigration facilities on Wednesday, May 22, Ms Davies said: “I think the quick answer is yes. Victorian prisons should be closed.”

“But I don’t think the problem with infrastructure is limited to Victorian jails at all. So I think infrastructure is about more than the age of the buildings, as alluded to rightly by Charlie Taylor (the Chief Inspector of Prisons).

“Infrastructure goes beyond that issue to a considerable degree.”