Hundreds of prisoners had been isolated for periods of 10 days with no time out of cell other than for a weekly shower, according to the latest inspection of a large prison in Surrey holding 1,150 men. Inspectors described HMP High Down as a ‘troubled prison confronting difficult, long-term challenges’ whilst uncertainty over its future role had ‘undermined’ its ability to provide purposeful activity for prisoners.
HMP High Down began its transition from a category B local prison to a category C training prison in 2016; however, at the time of the most recent inspection, High Down remained a local category B prison with the chief inspector, Charlie Taylor describing that the situation was ‘astonishing’ and a ‘serious indictment’ of the prison service’s leadership. Back in 2018 Taylor’s predecessor, Peter Clarke had previously expressed concern over the uncertainty about the prison’s future role saying then that it was ‘extraordinary’ that the prison ‘had not been given any more detail’ by the prison service.
We found a troubled prison confronting difficult, long-term challenges. It is a serious indictment of HMPPS leadership that the governor and her team should have been asked to spend so much of the pandemic distracted by a change in function which was ultimately suspended.
As a result of the uncertainty in High Down’s role, offender management work had no clear direction. Less than one in five of prisoners (19%) with a sentence plan said that staff were helping them to achieve their targets. In the previous six months, about 15% of prisoners had been released homeless.
Most prisoners had only one hour out of their cells each day, sometimes less when time in the open air was cancelled. Those isolating for 10 days due to potential exposure to COVID-19 had no outdoor exercise at all, only leaving their cell to have a weekly shower. No regular welfare checks were carried out on all prisoners who had been behind their cell doors for 23 hours a day for up to a year. This was said to be a ‘particular omission’ due to the large number of prisoners in isolation to prevent the spread of infection. Less than a third of prisoners (30%) said that a member of staff had checked how they were getting on within the last week.