A PRISON in England that houses high-risk sex offenders is failing to prepare effectively for their release into the community, a new report confirms.

HMP Isle of Wight releases one or two high risk prisoners per month, but evidence from the inspection suggested that these prisoners were not always identified or discussed at a multidisciplinary forum ahead of their release to make sure risk management plans were robust. Inspectors were concerned that one in five prisoners left the prison without a sustainable place to live.

Only 30 prisoners had completed an offending behaviour programme for those convicted of a sexual offence. Acute staffing shortages had slowed progress to deliver programmes at pre-pandemic levels and included a severe lack of qualified psychologists. Poor access to offending behaviour programmes was a particular issue for the approximately 130 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences, for whom completion of these programmes is often a requirement for parole.

Standards had declined across all four healthy prison tests, with inspectors having particular concerns about the rising rates of self-harm and the number of suicides. The standard of case management documents for those at risk of self-harm was inadequate, and prisoners spoke to inspectors about a lack of care shown to them by some staff.

Staff shortages plagued HMP Isle of Wight. Just over a third of officer posts were either vacant or the staff were not deployable to operational duties, leaving too few officers on the wings to provide a proper regime. Unemployed prisoners spent less than two hours out of their cells each day during the week. Inspectors found many employed prisoners also locked up due to a lack of instructors, despite the published regime promising eight hours out of cell Monday-Thursday.

National shortages of prison staff have affected the entire estate, but the problem has been particularly acute in long-term high security jails such as Swaleside, Woodhill, and the Isle of Wight. The mixture of inexperienced staff and experienced prisoners, compounded by the boredom and frustration of being locked up most of the day, tends towards an environment in which both officers and prisoners feel unsafe and unsupported.

Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “HMP Isle of Wight is a training prison – its primary purpose is to support rehabilitation and prepare prisoners for release including those who pose a high risk of harm to the public but it’s failing to do so. Their time in prison presents an opportunity to reduce their risk of reoffending, and that opportunity is being lost when, instead of taking part in education, work and training, men are sitting locked in their cells all day.

“When it comes to the end of their sentences, too many men we know pose a risk of harm to the public are being released without a sustainable place to live and without proper planning around protecting victims of their crimes and often inadequate contact with local probation services. This is frightening. The prison service has to take serious and immediate action to address this.”

Commenting on the report, Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Time and again, we are seeing inspection reports stressing that severe staffing shortages are reaching a crisis point in our prisons.

“Lack of adequate staffing is contributing to unsafe environments and higher levels of violence, with restricted regimes where men are excessively locked in cells and failing to prepare for release.

“Staff shortages and poorly resourced regimes mean that even prisons with specialist functions like the Ise of Wight are now operating as little more than human warehouses. The government must act urgently to manage demand for prison places and properly resource the system to keep the public safe.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “This is a deeply worrying report. Ministers cling to the fiction that prisons are returning to normal, but the chief inspector uncovers yet another story of chronic staff shortage and operational failure. Two consequences result. People whose release depends on the Parole Board’s assessment of the risk they pose are denied a fair opportunity to make their case. And people who will be released without that assessment are not given the support they need to ensure that the public are protected.

“Ministers will point to their £4 billion plan for new prisons. But building more prisons when the government can’t make a success of the ones it already has is a recipe for costly disaster.”

HMP Isle of Wight is a designated category B male training prison predominantly for prisoners convicted of sexual offences, with a small local remand function. At the time of this inspection, the prison held 971 prisoners. Inspectors identified one example of notable positive practice during this inspection.

* Read the full inspection report here.

* Sources: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Howard League for Penal Reform, and Prison Reform Trust