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Concerns at Northamptonshire’s HMP Five Wells over drugs and ‘illicit items’

Concerns have been raised at Northamptonshire prison HMP Five Wells over drugs and “illicit items” in the facility. The Category C prison in Wellingborough can house 1680 prisoners and aims to provide “rehabilitation and resettlement” for those with up to two years left on their sentence.

It opened in February last year but a report, published by Independent Monitory Boards on September 12, said the ramp up of transfers has been “slower than planned” because of “staff recruitment difficulties”.

By the end of March 2023, there were 1200 prisoners and all but one houseblock was in operation. However, the board said it was concerned by the number of “illicit items” in the facility with “drugs seeming to be available” on most blocks.

Finds include “hooch, drugs, cell phones and SIM cards” while drone sightings were “initially common” but additional security measures have reduced them.

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The prison has curtailed some outdoor activities in response to an “increase in throwovers”. It also highlighted “insufficient work opportunities and the suspension of release on temporary licence” which has limited inmates access to “appropriate resettlement opportunities”.

Design faults were also found in the building of the prison, meaning low mobility cells on each wing can’t be “occupied for safety reasons”. Airflow on the landings was also considered poor while the original gym location was “unsustainable”.

There were a high number of complaints from prisoners about the quality and quantity of food also, despite an extensive menu being provided. There were also shortages, with some going without food occasionally.

Examples of self-harm were also more prevalent in certain wings, with incidents exceeding 60 – 70 per month in the last quarter. The number of violent incidents, as a percentage of the population, increased during the last six months of the reporting period.

Education staff “expressed concern” that the number of operational staff in their area is minimal, making it less likely that “disruptive behaviour” is challenged.

The daily budget for prisoners’ food is £2.63 but those with sufficient funds can order their own food through the canteen and cook it using microwaves and toasters available on wings.

The prison received a total of 3086 complaints in the reporting year – with the areas receiving the most complaints being the canteen, property, and finance.

Despite this, the report highlights what has gone well in the first year of operation. This includes:

  • The support provided for families, with family ties being encouraged and a well-used visits hall.
  • More than 20 workshops were running by the end of the year, including carpentry, bike repairs, a training kitchen, a call centre, and Salvation Army recycling.
  • Staffing difficulties notwithstanding, a regime of up to nine hours out of cell per day for prisoners has been maintained.

On the report, IMB Five Wells Chair, David Culwick, said: “It is unfortunate that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the prison has had three changes of Director in the first fifteen months of operation.

“This, along with difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, has hindered the development of Five Wells’ rehabilitation and resettlement programme. We look forward to the next twelve months as a time of consolidation of regime offering opportunities to prisoners and support and training for staff.”

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