HMP Guys Marsh ‘failing in almost every area’

Photo by Andy Aitchison,

Guys Marsh prison is ‘failing in almost every area’, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons has warned. In an alarming report, inspectors concluded that the Category B prison in Dorset, which is designed to hold 518 men but currently houses 557, is dangerously violent, under-staffed and under-resourced.

The inspection followed a November 2014 report which described the institution as a ‘prison in crisis’. Despite the appointment of a new governor, chief inspector Peter Clarke said managers and staff in the prison ‘had all but lost control’. Three men had lost their lives through suicide between the two inspections.

According to the report,  Guys Marsh is dangerously unsafe. Over a quarter of prisoners surveyed said they did not feel safe at the time of inspection, while over half had felt unsafe at some point during their time there. The report details how the degree of violence has led to several prisoners ‘seeking sanctuary or self-isolating for their own protection’. The inspectorate reported that minimal effort has been made to improve safety.

The report, published on Tuesday, identified debt and drug availability as principal causes of the violence, with almost three-quarters of prisoners (74{3234d8c1bc8391a7e63ebaf7e32c90a4a5b2a92b92485c9509211683c01cefb1}) surveyed claiming it was easy to acquire illegal drugs. Almost a quarter said they had developed a drug problem in the prison, which was given six months’ notice of the inspection.

Guys Marsh, officially a training and resettlement institution, had just one prisoner out on temporary license at the time of inspection. Few inmates were released with sustainable housing or adequate training arrangements. The prison is dirty, with serious shortages in essentials such as bedding, hot water and clothing.

The report represents the latest in a lengthy line of concerning inspections. Reports this year on HMP Swinfen Hall and HMP Featherstone also raised concerns about violence, under-staffing and self-isolation. Guys Marsh has been the subject of several well publicised cases of disorder in recent months. Images of prisoners drinking, taking drugs and eating takeaway food surfaced on Facebook in November. Later, in March this year, a protesting inmate set fire to his clothes, causing a roof fire and an evacuation affecting dozens.

Additional resources and an additional 18 prison officer posts have been promised to tackle the issues identified in the report.

Author: Piers Barber

Piers is presently working for a charity which promotes children’s rights. He was online editor at Not Shut Up, a magazine celebrating prisoner creativity

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