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Portland's prison praised in new report
A DORSET prison has been praised for its many strengths – but also told it needs to improve training for prisoners.
A new report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons highlighted both positives and negatives for life over the last three years at the Verne on Portland.
The report found: “The Verne was an effective prison in many ways, but needed to develop better employment and resettlement opportunities.”
It added that the prison was ‘unique’ in many respects and that the ‘600 or so men it holds have had much more freedom within the confines of the prison’ than was usually the case in a category C facility.
Positive findings of the report included: prisoners generally felt safe and there was low levels of violence and self-harm, the prison made ‘extensive use’ of peer support workers and had a large and impressive Toe by Toe scheme – where one prisoner mentors another to improve their reading skills.
The newly opened Jailhouse Cafe was praised as was the work building links with local businesses to shape development courses and improve prisoner’s employment prospects.
However, areas of concerns included: that in some cases ‘overly rigid criteria’ were applied for accepting prisoners into the prison, that all men being transferred out were held in the segregation unit while awaiting transfer and resettlement activities needed improvement.
The report added that ‘too little purposeful activity’ was available - although it highlighted that the constraints of the site created real difficulties and visits arrangements were particularly poor.
Governor at the Verne, James Lucas, said that he recognised that visits for prisoners and training were important. He said: “We recognise the importance of families in supporting offenders in changing their lives and we recognise we need to do as much as we can to support them.”
He said it was their intention to provide full employment for all prisoners by the end of 2013, and that it was important to innovate and that the Jailhouse Cafe was a classic example of this.
Last year the Verne increased its number of visit days every week and recently held a forum with prisoners families while the fathers got to spend time with their children doing games in the gym with the instructors Mr Lucas added: “I’m very pleased that the hard work of my staff has been recognised and the excellent staff-prisoner relationships have been celebrated.”
Mr Lucas added that he was ‘very proud’ that security and safety had been praised.
He added that everyone at Verne accepted the points raised by the report and would be working hard on those areas.
Positive culture is recognised
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: "The Verne continues to offer a safe environment, with strong relationships between staff and prisoners, and I am pleased that this positive culture has been recognised in the Chief Inspector's report. “ He added that further work was needed following the report on ‘purposeful activity and resettlement.’ Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said the ‘trick will be to address the prison’s evident weaknesses without damaging some of its exceptional strengths.’