Disabled prisoners at Parkhurst jail have been unable to wash properly for months because of a lack of trained staff to push wheelchairs, according to a report published today.
The chief inspector of prisons, Dame Anne Owers, brands the Isle of Wight jail a “failing prison”, lacking basic levels of safety and decency, with poor supervision by staff and widespread abuse of prescription drugs.
She says her unannounced follow-up inspection in December found that bullying and violence were so endemic in the prison that 75% of vulnerable prisoners felt unsafe.
Owers says her inspectors were appalled by the treatment of a small number of prisoners with disabilities, some of whom had gone without a shower for many months.
“One prisoner with a longstanding health problem and mobility needs told us he had not had a shower in over a year as he was extremely unsteady on his feet and the showers were on an upper floor.
“Another prisoner in a wheelchair said he had not had a bath since he was discharged from hospital almost six months previously. There were no baths or showers for prisoners on the ground floor.”
The chief inspector’s report says that although disabled prisoners could have used the showers in the segregation unit they were not helped to do so. Their difficulties in getting around the prison to attend healthcare, education or the chaplaincy were compounded by the lack of trained staff to push wheelchairs. Some disabled prisoners who used walking sticks or crutches had not been accommodated on the ground floor.
Owers also raises concerns about the activities of a small group of radical Muslim prisoners.
The approach of security staff at the jail was regarded as “thoughtful” but the staff who deal with these prisoners, including the imam, felt unsupported.
An attempt by the imam to set up an Islamic teaching group to limit the radicals’ influence had been partly blocked by a failure to reach an agreement on the issue with the staff associations.
Owers says that “exceptionally poor industrial relations exert a malign influence over an already troubled institution”.
Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service, said he accepted that Parkhurst had fallen below standard.
He said it had become part of HMP Isle of Wight, a cluster of three prisons, whose governor had started a radical programme of change.
“I am determined that the creation of the new prison and the associated restructuring will deliver the change required. I also agree that the very poor industrial relations have hampered Parkhurst over the years and this cannot continue if Parkhurst, now part of HMP Isle of Wight, is to progress,” he said.
“Staff of all grades will have to work co-operatively and flexibly if the prison is to move forward.”