WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 20 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Rubble, ruin, and rotting rats: damning report into HMP Winchester

Rubble, ruin, and rotting rats: damning report into HMP Winchester

As many as four out of 10 prison staff at a HMP Winchester were ‘inexperienced’, according to a prison inspection which highlighted extensive vermin infestations at struggling category B prison in Hampshire. The Independent Monitoring Board has released its annual report, with harsh criticisms of the prison’s health, humanity and security.

The IMB noted several significant problems with HMP Winchester. The fabric of the prison was falling apart in many areas, with parts of the chapel fenced off, prisoners removing whole windows, and breaking through walls of their cells. This damage came with obvious ‘risks of disorder or escape’. The IMB drew to the attention of the prisons minister staffing problems which remain ‘an effective barrier against a more settled, effective and consistent service’ and noted ‘up to 40% of officers’ were  ‘inexperienced in managing either a normal regime or the volatile nature of the population’. 

The IMB reported a ‘significant vermin problem’. Rats were found throughout the prison, and nested among the cabling in the control room. Some had gnawed through wires ‘pivotal to the security of the prison’. Attempts to poison the rats had worsened the situation, as their decomposing corpses could not be removed: the ‘smell of rotting rat bodies’ led some employees to refuse to work in areas of the prison. ‘The control room always has a very disagreeable smell of rotting rat bodies, and is a most unpleasant atmosphere to work in,’ the board noted. 

Further criticism was levelled at the regime of the prison for depriving prisoners of meaningful work. This leads to many prisoners being locked in cells for up to 22 hours a day. This is coupled with an inability to maintain appropriate temperatures; a lack of reliable showers; and the inaccessibility of many areas of the prison to disabled inmates. The IMB stated damningly: ‘This regime can hardly be said to represent humane conditions’.

The IMB is an independent organisation that monitors the day-to-day life of prisons throughout the country. They aim to ensure that adequate levels of safety, care and decency are maintained in prison. They are composed of members of the public.

HMP Winchester is a ‘local prison’, meaning it takes prisoners from several courts around the area. These prisoners are often on remand, or not yet sentenced; others have not yet been fully assessed, and will later be transferred to other prisons. This leads to a high prisoner turnover.