Life inside HMP Leeds: Drugs, violence and poor conditions

The Independent Monitoring Board raised a number of concerns but praised HMP Leeds staff for their efforts under the circumstances.
The Independent Monitoring Board raised a number of concerns but praised HMP Leeds staff for their efforts under the circumstances.

Sustained levels of violent incidents, the damaging impact of drugs and the arrival of disruptive prisoners from other facilities are among the issues at HMP Leeds, a new report says.

The report also raised concerns about ‘unacceptable’ shortages of basic commodities, the capacity of mental health support, and the quality of rehabilitation activity in the prison’s workshops.

HMP Leeds in Armley.

HMP Leeds in Armley.

But there was praise from the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the efforts of staff in maintaining standards and for the ‘impressive’ programme of classroom activities run by education services provider Novus.

The IMB’s report reflected on the regular visits made by its members – all unpaid volunteers from the public – throughout the course of 2016.

It noted that the male prison in Armley was close to or at its 1,218 prisoner capacity all year.

The report said there were an average of 46 ‘violent incidents’ a month, including self-harm, and four self-inflicted deaths in custody during 2016.

The ongoing recruitment of additional prison officers is welcome and, in the view of the board, very necessary.

HMP Leeds Independent Monitoring Board

But it commended the swift actions of staff in dealing with incidents, as well as recognising the daily challenges they faced.

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It said: “The ongoing recruitment of additional prison officers is welcome and, in the view of the board, very necessary for the safe maintenance of the core regime for prisoners.”

The report said the “lack of privacy and poor sanitary conditions associated with a largely unreconstructed Victorian era prison” remained a very significant concern, but staff deserved credit for maintaining standards despite staffing levels.

During visits, the board found “unsatisfactory and unacceptable shortages” of basic commodities such as towels and toilet rolls at various times. The prison also had no dental usable examination chair for at least two months.

Noting that such shortcomings create “understandable frustrations” for prisoners, the board said it hoped such issues would not be repeated in 2017.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “HMP Leeds have taken a number of steps to improve prison safety through increasing CCTV, netting vulnerable external areas of the prison to reduce the number of throw-overs and recruiting more prison officers.

“A local safeguarding policy has also been introduced to stamp out violence and support victims.”

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