Drugs, alcohol and associated violence ‘major concern’ at prison

Unacceptable levels of drugs and alcohol which have led to violence are a “major concern” at a Surrey prison, an independent board has found. The HMP Coldingley annual report, covering the prison’s operation between August 1, 2020, to July 31, 2021, was published on Tuesday (October 19). It praised the staff’s efforts to protect prisoners from Covid-19 but highlighted the presence of illicit items and associated violence is an issue at the Bisley premises.

: Fatal stabbing of prisoner raises questions over ‘problematic prevalence of weapons’ at HMP Coldingley


The smuggling into prison of mobile phones, drugs and alcohol are a “major concern” at HMP Coldingley, the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) report noted. Between May 2020 and April 2021, there were 219 mobile phones and associated paraphernalia, 192 drugs and associated paraphernalia and around 1,359 litres of hooch, an alcoholic liquid that can be made in prison, found. It found the volume of hooch inside the prison has “increased significantly and has at times created major problems”.

The availability of the banned items gives rise to increased levels of violence and bullying, the Board concluded. The situation is not helped by the lack of CCTV on any of the prison wing landings due to vandalising of cameras and the high cost of replacing them. However, the Board complemented the prison on the installation an airport-style full body scanner.

It was in place from May this year and is being used to check individuals suspected of having ingested contraband.

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Changed your mind? There’s an ‘unsubscribe’ button at the bottom of every newsletter we send out. The number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults has decreased from 37 between 2019 and 2020 to 28 between 2020 and 2021, which the Board put down to the formation of ‘household bubbles’ and restrictions of movement inside the prison during the pandemic.

However, there continue to be a number (16) of prisoner unexplained injuries. The Board said this “did not seem appropriate in a Category C training prison” and suggested ‘Cuckooing’ could help explain the incidents. The term describes the taking over of a cell by a more dominant prisoner, usually for the storage of illicit items.

No in-cell sanitation

Currently, there is no in-cell sanitation for around 300 prisoners living in four older wings of HMP Coldingley.

That means those inmates have to ring a bell and wait in a queue to use the lavatory at night. However, the Board was pleased to note that work will begin in January 2022 to refurbish these wings. It will result in each cell having a toilet and a sink installed – but the project is expected to take five years to complete.

Education suite ‘woefully underused’

Drugs, alcohol and associated violence 'major concern' at prisonAn external view of the HMP Coldingley in Bisley

The Board recognised the challenges of education provision during Covid-19.

However, it noted the education suite appeared “woefully underused” even when the restrictions were eased. The panel said Open University students were “disappointed” at the lack of tuition and new prisoner assessments, which should be happening within 10 days of arrival, were not routinely happening even before lockdown hit. The report noted peer mentors are now available on every landing in the prison, but additional tutors are needed to tackle low levels of literacy among prisoners.

The prison, however, has taken positive steps in the education realm. A range of practical courses, such as roofing and forklift truck driving, are about to begin which could lead directly to employment.

Progress since last year

The Board said the prison’s installation of more than 60 accommodation pods have “worked well” and it acknowledged the prison’s efforts to establish a substance-free community within the prison. It also applauded the prison for providing prisoners with as much time out of the cell as possible in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

IMB Coldingley Chair, Heather Cook, said: “The IMB recognises that the Governor and staff work hard to provide a decent and humane environment and this remained the case throughout the pandemic. “Social visits were suspended, but prisoners were able to maintain family contacts with extra phone calls and video calls. “The absence of in-cell sanitation remains a major problem currently, but in addition the conditions on the older wings generally are poor and issues with broken windows and heating breakdowns frequently take far too long to be rectified.

“We hope that the planned refurbishment will address these problems once and for all.” She added: “Education and work opportunities were inevitably curtailed by the pandemic, to the detriment of prisoners’ progression towards their reintegration into society on release. “Over the past year, all shower blocks have been refurbished to provide cleaner, safer facilities.

We are also pleased that plans are well advanced for an Incentivised Substance Free Living wing, where prisoners who genuinely want to give up drugs and alcohol can be supported.” The Ministry of Justice has been contacted for comment. Download the SurreyLive app for a better reader experience and to get news from the areas you care most about.

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