THE Verne prison on Portland is ‘going out on a high note’ despite some concerns highlighted in a report by independent watchdogs examining its last year.

The final annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) into HMP The Verne Category C jail covers the period May 2012 to October 2013, when it closed after 60 years. The report has just been published.

The former Victorian citadel is undergoing a new lease of life as an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), due to open next month.

Reporting on its life before closure, the IMB said it is ‘greatly to the credit’ of the governor and staff that the prison carried on normally during a period of ‘uncertainty’ when decisions about its future were being made.

The report praises the prison as ‘safe’ and with ‘dedicated staff’ – and says despite sadness at the closure, it is ‘going out on a high note’.

It highlights the success of efforts to rehabilitate and resettle including the Jailhouse Cafe – which continues to flourish as a community venture – together with the largest ever number of inmates released on temporary licences to work outside.

But the report says: “The board remains seriously concerned that prisoners with mental health problems are held in the Segregation Unit until they can be transferred to a location with a secure mental health bed available.”

It adds: “Increasing numbers of older prisoners mean that there will inevitably be more deaths in custody, and increasing numbers of older prisoners in poor health.

“Recent experience at The Verne shows that there are many factors to consider when providing end of life care. Social care needs cannot be assessed in prison and a national policy is needed.”

The board also remains concerned that many prisoners are transferred without completed Offender Assessment System (OASys) assessments or sentence plans.

Former governor welcomes report

JAMES Lucas, the governor at the Verne before it closed, said: “I am very pleased that the areas of excellence and innovation at HMP The Verne have been recognised by the IMB.

“I would like to thank IMB chairman Judith Boichot and her team for their thorough, fair and balanced report.

“We are looking forward to continuing to work with them once we re-roll to an IRC.”

The Ministry of Justice refused to comment on issues raised in the report, stating the Verne had held no prisoners since October 2013 and that it will open in due course as an IRC. The health centre at the Verne was managed and staffed by Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust (DHUFT).

Jenny Erwin, associate director – Specialist Services Dorset HealthCare said: “The trust provides healthcare services in prisons across Dorset and Devon and we welcome feedback on how we can improve the care we provide.

“HMP The Verne is currently closed, but when it opens as an immigration removal centre we will provide services to meet the healthcare needs of its detainees.”