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Improvements Needed At HMP The Verne


8:17am 19th February 2013

HMP The Verne is an effective prison, but needs to develop better employment and resettlement opportunities, according to a report.

The Portland jail has had its annual assessment by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The Verne is a category C training jail holding around 600 men who are enjoy more freedom than they would normally in this type of facility.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:
-    few prisoners felt unsafe and there were low levels of violence and self-harm;
-    the generally good staff-prisoner relationships underpinned good dynamic security;
-    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 Jail House Café, just outside the prison, was a social enterprise staffed by prisoners and open to the public, which appeared to be successful. The prison was looking to extend the social enterprise model to provide more employment opportunities;
-    the prison was building its links with local employers to shape the development of courses and improve prisoners' employment prospects; and
-    help with health, drugs and alcohol abuse issues was good, while the Kainos community provided a 'Challenge to Change' programme for medium-high risk prisoners that focused on thinking skills.

However, inspectors had some concerns:
-    in some cases overly rigid criteria were applied for accepting prisoners into the prison, weak justification was used for transferring prisoners out, and there was little evidence to support some of these decisions;
-    all men being transferred out were held in the segregation unit while they awaited transfer;
-    prisoners said they were concerned that if they complained too often, they would be transferred out;
-    prisoners from black and minority ethnic communities and Muslim prisoners were more negative about the prison than the rest of the population, and there was little attempt to meet the needs of the large foreign national population;
-    there was too little purposeful activity available and much of what was provided was low-quality wing domestic work, although the constraints of the site created real difficulties;
-    resettlement activity required improvement, as offender supervisors had large caseloads and insufficient contact with prisoners for whom they were responsible; and
-    visits arrangements were particularly poor.

Nick Hardwick said:
"For many men, the very strong culture of The Verne provided an exceptional and effective experience. Those who fitted in benefited from good relationships, considerable freedom within the prison, and real opportunities to develop responsibility and change their behaviour. However, there was a risk that this culture slipped into becoming exclusive and inward-looking. It was right that the prison had strict acceptance criteria, but these needed to be applied transparently and sensibly.

"The prison's plans to overcome the difficulties of its location by developing better employment and resettlement opportunities also needed to be progressed with vigour. The trick will be to address the prison's evident weaknesses without damaging some of its exceptional strengths."
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), 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.

"It is clear though that further work is needed, particularly in the areas of purposeful activity and resettlement, in response to the Chief Inspector's recommendations."

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