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Concerns Raised Over Inmate Conditions at HMP Belmarsh

A recent report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has raised significant concerns about the conditions faced by inmates at His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, a Category A men’s prison in Thamesmead. The IMB report highlights several issues, including the extensive confinement of prisoners and inadequate mental health support.

Extended Confinement for Inmates: The report reveals that about a quarter of Belmarsh inmates are confined to their cells for 22 hours a day. This lack of opportunity for meaningful engagement and activities is attributed to stringent security measures aimed at mitigating gang violence and conflicts within the prison.

Mental Health Concerns: A critical issue identified in the report is the inadequate provision for inmates with mental health needs. The process of assessing and accommodating these inmates is lengthy, often requiring intervention from officers or the IMB. The report expresses concern over the delay in establishing a new mental health team under the prison’s new healthcare provider, which was contracted in February 2023.

Inmate Grievances: The IMB report also notes a significant increase in grievances from inmates, particularly concerning missing property during inter-prison transfers. These complaints have doubled in the past year.

Indefinite Imprisonment Issues: A notable concern is the situation of inmates serving indefinite Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences. Many of these individuals, incarcerated for over a decade, are still serving time despite having initially received brief tariffs. The IMB deems this prolonged incarceration as inhumane and raises ethical questions about the extended duration of their imprisonment.

Reduced Healthcare Staffing: At the end of the reporting year in June 2023, the mental health nursing staff was reduced to less than one full-time equivalent. This reduction in healthcare provision is alarming given the pressing mental health needs within the prison population.

Statement from IMB Chair: Peter Ward, Chair of the IMB, commended the staff for maintaining safety and security under challenging conditions. However, he noted that this focus has resulted in limited opportunities for inmates to engage in purposeful activities, education, or resettlement work. Ward also highlighted the strain placed on both staff and facilities due to the insufficient movement of prisoners with severe mental health issues to more therapeutic environments.

Implications and Concerns: These findings from the IMB report underscore the need for urgent reforms at HMP Belmarsh, particularly in addressing mental health care and ensuring the humane treatment of inmates. The prolonged confinement and lack of rehabilitative opportunities present serious challenges to the welfare of the inmates and the overall goal of rehabilitation within the prison system.

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