MAJOR concerns were today raised about the running of a prison where a Wearside inmate killed himself.
Eccentric Raymond Scott, from Washington, was sentenced to eight years behind bars in 2010 for handling stolen goods – a rare edition of Shakespeare’s First Folio from Durham University Library.
In March 2012, the 55-year-old committed suicide in what is now HMP Northumberland.
A report released today by HM Inspectorate of Prisons called for improvements at the site, which holds 1,300 male inmates.
Inspectors were concerned to find that not all prisoners received a thorough initial risk assessment or induction, prisoners said they felt less safe at Northumberland than at comparable prisons and recorded assaults were high and work to confront bullying and violence lacked rigour.
Another issue highlighted was that three self-inflicted deaths had taken place at HMP Northumberland since 2012, including Scott’s, and although the prison had been monitoring implementation of recommendations from investigations into the deaths, latterly scrutiny had lapsed.
In late 2013 the prison was taken over by the private sector provider, Sodexo, and was concluding the transition process at the time of the inspection.
Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, said: “The prison now approaches its fourth year of ongoing change, most of it very significant.
“The new providers appeared to have established themselves in the prison and there seemed to be a renewed focus on actual service delivery.
“However, overall this is a fairly critical report.
“Safety outcomes have worsened and in most other respects it would be true to say the prison has yet to start improving.
“The prison lacked a clear sense of purpose: it was a training prison without enough activity; it held many prisoners far from home; and it was a resource for indeterminate prisoners and sex offenders without any particular attention to their needs.
“Better safety outcomes, high quality work and training opportunities and a clarification of role should be the prison’s priorities.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service, said: “As the Chief Inspector acknowledges, this has been a challenging time for HMP Northumberland, as the prison has adapted to a number of significant changes.
“Progress has been made in a number of areas, including the provision of more work and education placements, and Sodexo are committed to delivering further improvements to support effective rehabilitation.
“As with any prison, safety is a priority and we will ensure that Sodexo use the recommendations of this report to improve safety outcomes for both prisoners and staff .”
The report comes less than six months after a report by the Prisons and Probation Service Ombudsman found what it called deficiencies in Scott’s care.
It revealed how 55-year-old Scott initially settled into prison life, but his mood began to change in early 2012.
He became preoccupied with how long he had left to serve and during much of February he was put on suicide and self-harm watch.
He made several phone calls to the Samaritans and had spoken at length to them – so much so they got in touch with the prison and an officer arranged a personal visit for Scott with the charity.
In March, he told a fellow inmate how he intended to take his own life that night.
The report said the prisoner told staff about it although there was no record.
The next day, Scott was found dead after he had cut his own neck.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Northumberland prison is supposed to be a ‘national resource’ to help turn around the lives of indeterminate-sentenced prisoners and those serving time for sex offences. But this report shows it is failing miserably.
“This is a prison where prisoners get drugs and alcohol easily but find support and preparation for release harder to come by. The number of assaults is high and rising, and inspectors found some prisoners had sought sanctuary in the segregation unit because they felt unsafe.
“We have become used to reading critical reports on overcrowded public-sector prisons which have seen deep cuts to staff and resources. Northumberland is neither publicly run nor overcrowded. What is Sodexo’s excuse?
“It is extremely worrying that Sodexo runs the prison with so many problems and has also been handed the contract to run community sentences from next month.
“This is another example of the shambles created by the privatisation of prisons.”