Inspectors report reveal what life is like inside HMP Durham during the pandemic

A team of inspectors who check up on HMP Durham say its bosses have faced a “difficult and challenging time” of managing its 950 inmates during the pandemic.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 4:12 pm

The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) group which checks on the Old Elvet jail has released its latest report into the Category B reception prison, with its work carried out remotely since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Keith Young, the IMB’s chairman, said the prison has had to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic in unprecedented ways.

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HMP Durham, in Old Elvet in the city centre, is more than 200 years old.

The pandemic has led to stricter measures, with prisoners spending the majority of their time in cells, inspectors found.

This has meant reduced staffing levels but has proved a challenge for prisoners’ mental health.

As HMP Durham is a reception prison it averages 16 admissions a day which lead to a high risk of the virus being brought in.

Family visits have been suspended in lockdown, with video link and phone contact maintained instead.

Nine prisoners died at the prison during the reporting year, three more than the year before – three were of natural causes and six were self-inflicted or self-harm.

Overcrowding continues to be a major concern with most cells occupied by two prisoners. Inspectors have again brought the issue to the Minister of State’s attention.

A new body scanner was installed in the prison in July and this has played a “major part in detecting secreted items being brought into the prison” the report finds, but the board is concerned at the number of cases of prisoners being recalled to prison for license breaches who are then testing positive for items on their return to the jail.

Inspectors praised the Safer Prison Team for its ‘diligent work to analyse data’ surrounding violence, self harm, vulnerable prisoners and trouble hot spot areas, putting in measures to minimise risks.

It has noted the number of assaults has declined over the last three years, with a steep decline over the past year with, in part due to the restricted Covid regime.

A new Healthcare provider began work in April, with a survey finding prisoners satisfied with the service and the work of the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Team (DART) highlighted.

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