Today involved only a short-haul journey down the road to Belmarsh, one of three Cat A locals (along with Manchester and Woodhill) – although the walk from the station is always rather further than I remember. The jail, which was opened back in 1991, is sandwiched between Isis and Thameside, which I had already visited earlier in my tour.
Prisoners felt staff were good at dealing with incidents and said they could keep safe if they stayed away from trouble. They noted recent improvements and praised the No 1 as ‘visible’, ‘open’ & ‘progressive’. They rated the prison council, with monthly SMT meetings (‘makes a difference’), as well as a range of peer mentors, including PID workers, listeners and care & support workers (for older prisoners) on each houseblock. There noted good support for trans prisoners, including access to make-up etc through canteen, and valued curtains in every cell.
The Officers felt relations with prisoners were generally good, and said the jail was safe and controlled, highlighting a whole-prison approach to security, and the courage, skill and teamwork of staff (‘we’re a family’). They rated suicide & self-harm prevention, noting a low number of ACCTs, the commitment & care of staff, and multidisciplinary case management & support. Reception & induction were another positive, with good support from peer mentors. They highly rated the No 1, who was ‘inspirational’, ‘visible’, ‘knows all our names’, ‘supports staff’, ‘listens’, ‘gives praise’, and ‘sends us all birthday & Xmas cards!’.
Managers agreed about safety, security and staff-prisoner relations, praised staff and teamwork across disciplines, and also rated suicide & self-harm prevention. They highlighted managing challenging prisoners and mental health support, too: allowing prisoners to have razors only when shaving, and staging officers at fixed points on free-flow while managers walk the route, were good innovations, and having oranges & juice to administer for ‘spice attacks’ reduced ‘code blues’. A full body scanner in reception, scanning all mail, random checks on staff, and support for staff under threat, had reduced smuggling. Staff recognition, ‘people committee’ consultation meetings and well-being days were positives, and they agreed with staff about the Governor (‘the best I’ve known’ according to one).