St Helena Online

Tag: HMP Jamestown

Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door
HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

Ex-Broadmoor psychiatrist visits St Helena inmates

Serious offenders have been visited in St Helena’s prison by a specialist psychiatrist.

Dr Tim McInerney (picture: St Helena Government)
Dr Tim McInerny (picture: St Helena Government)

Dr Tim McInerny – who also works on the Falklands – has been brought in to help prisoners avoid re-offending when they are released.

He carried out assessments by video link with some prisoners before arriving on the island on 11 January 2014, and will continue to do so on his return to the UK.

He is also giving training in managing offenders – for their own sakes, and for public safety.

He said he was impressed by what he had seen.

“The prison service is doing a lot of good work despite limited resources. Every professional working here is quite isolated and I think it’s really helpful to have my support to help them improve their expertise and to really try and get the best outcomes.

Jamestown prison: whitewashed building with blue balcony over barred door
HMP Jamestown: picture by John Grimshaw

“I have been a visiting psychiatrist to the Falkland Islands for 13 years so I know a lot about the challenges facing a small community in terms of both risk and mental health – and also the need to develop programmes that take into account a small community, the feelings of the community and what practical resources are available.”

Dr McInerny trained in criminal psychiatry and worked for nine years in the UK’s maximum security hospital, Broadmoor, before moving to a low-security hospital in London, helping offenders prepare for release.

(Source: St Helena Government).

Money on offer to tackle sex crimes against children
Island works to end heartache caused by sex offenders
No place to hide: why tackling sex crimes is so much more challenging on a small island

Inmates swelter as councillors duck vote on prison move

Her Majesty's Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw
Her Majesty’s Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw

Efforts to end “human rights violations” in St Helena’s overcrowded prison have been frustrated by executive councillors’ refusal to consider plans for a new gaol at Half Tree Hollow.

It is thought the acting governor, Owen O’Sullivan, might exercise his right to approve the plans himself, because conditions in HMP Jamestown are so bad.

Any delay is unlikely to affect the ten current inmates in the prison, which has just three cells. Their sentences will end before work on converting Sundale House was due to be completed.

It is not clear whether the councillor’s inaction will hold up conversion work. It was hoped it could be completed in 2014, a year earlier than expected.

The five-strong council argued that it had been told it could not make major policy decisions during an election period, under “purdah” rules imposed by Governor Mark Capes before he left the island on leave.

There has been vigorous local opposition to the Sundale House plan, and approving the scheme might have damaged the councillors’ chances of being voted back in – though they may not intend to seek re-election anyway.

Because the council meets in secret, the thrust of the councillors’ views on the plan is not known. Had they taken it to a vote, it might have been against the scheme.

But the principle of the move had already been agreed by the executive council, meaning it could only be turned down on the grounds of its design – and that had already been approved by the island’s independent planning board.

Sundale House (walled compound, top right) and Jamestown prison are both "unfit for use". Aerial picture: Rémi Bruneton
Sundale House (walled compound, top right) and Jamestown prison are both “unfit for use”. Aerial picture: Rémi Bruneton

The acting governor’s report of the meeting said: “It was a constructive discussion with a number of points made.  I was advised by members that they believed that they should not make a decision on this during the purdah period and wished to delay consideration of this until the new council.”

The purdah rules do allow the executive council to make decisions on urgent matters.

A statement from The Castle said: “The acting governor and senior officials are currently considering the implications of council’s advice and we are unable to make any further comment at this time.”

Catherine Turner, the island’s human rights co-ordinator, said: “The general feeling is that ExCo had already agreed this and should have made a decision but ducked the responsibility.

“ExCo’s acceptance of the proposal in principle is probably minuted somewhere but that will not be put into the public domain.

“However, this is recorded in the the Land Development Control Plan and the Human Rights Action Plan. Both clearly state that the prison should be moved to Sundale and both have been agreed and accepted as policy by the current ExCo.

“No one is clear what the next step will be.”

Catherine said leaving the decision to the new council might mean a delay until September, given that the election will not take place until 17 July 2013.

She said: “I expect that given the nature and sensitivity of the decision, any new members will want time to read the papers.”

The island’s governor does have the power to take the decision out of councillors’ hands. But Catherine said: “He is off island – the acting governor could do it, but it is thought that that is unlikely.

“The project team are hoping that it will not cause a significant delay as they believe that there is plenty they can be getting on with in preparation in the meantime.

“As far as the prisoners are concerned, most will have finished their sentences before the planned date of the move so it does not effect them directly.

“But it is the rights of those convicted in the next 12 months that will be unnecessarily effected, and we do not know who they are.

“My view is that the poor conditions and human rights violations are well documented and have been known for years, and it has gone on too long.”

Failings raised in the island’s human rights action plan include inadequate ventilation in cells, lack of privacy – even in the toilets – and limited access to the small exercise area.

“The prison is currently housing ten men, three to a cell, and one prisoner has chosen to sleep in an outside police holding cell,” said Catherine, who also serves as a prison visitor.

“It is hot and cramped in the cells. Remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners who are in the high security category are not allowed to leave the prison, so may not work on the farm or on community projects. Therefore they cannot get any outdoor exercise to let off steam.

“It is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Conditions at Sundale House, which currently houses people with severe mental disorders, have also been criticised. The prison plans involve creating a new secure facility for them elsewhere.

Catherine Turner said: “Fortunately our new social work manager, Claire Gannon, is excellent and she has plans in place to get the people out of Sundale and into more acceptable temporary accommodation as quickly as possible. “She is not prepared to wait for the new build to move as she recognises that the conditions at Sundale are unacceptable.”

Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
Prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

We have more time for inmates, says new prison boss

St Helena’s tiny prison presents benefits as well as problems, according to new manager Martin David.

HMP Jamestown has been criticised for its inadequate facilities in a succession of inspection reports, and concerns have been raised in the island’s human rights action plan.

St Helena Government is pushing through plans to move the prison to Sundale House in Half Tree Hollow, but not before 2015.

In a statement issued by The Castle, Martin acknowledges the limited resources for all the roles he is taking on – which include helping prisoners back into the community.

“In the UK we would have access to a significant number of services to manage these,” he says.

But he adds: “The advantage of such a small scale operation, however, is time we have available for individual cases.

“What we lack in specialised resources we can compensate for by devoting time and effort to individual cases and working closely with other agencies to ensure a holistic approach to offender management

“We have recognised that the current prison is not adequate, particularly for longer term prisoners, and one of my roles is to push forward the move to better premises.

“However, I can assure the public that we are making the best use of the existing building and I was pleasantly surprised to find a very clean, well ordered and calm environment, with good staff prisoner relationships. We will continue to ensure that the prison operates properly and decently.”

Martin worked in the UK prison service for 23 years and was a deputy governor at HM Prison Coldingley in Surrey, which specialised in giving prisoners a positive work ethic.

He arrived on the island on 13 November 2012 with his wife and two children.

Prison plans in hand as Castle sets out vital projects
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

Jamestown prison boss gets jail term for theft

Mick Morris, who ran Jamestown Prison until earlier this year, has been given a jail term himself – for stealing from another prison.

A court in the UK heard he took computers and a camera from Leyhill Open Prison when he left to take up his job on St Helena.

Morris, 45, was given a six-month prison sentence on each of five charges. The sentences were suspended for 12 months, meaning he will not go to jail if he stays out of trouble for a year.

The court ordered him to observe a 12-week curfew at his home in Somerset, and be fitted with an electronic tag to ensure his compliance.

A news website in Bristol reports that Morris lost his marriage and his career as a result of the thefts.

He pleaded guilty to five charges when he appeared in court on 5 September 2012.

The first said that between February and November 2010, he stole a laptop belonging to Leyhill Open Prison, near Bristol.

The other charges said that on 23 August 2010, he stole another laptop, a Samsung NC10 netbook, an e-reader for reading books on a computer, and a Polaroid camera.

A sales website for the NC10 says it is designed to “complement people’s fast-paced and digitally interconnected lives, enabling you to do even more on the move.”

Morris left St Helena on annual leave during the UK summer – and has not returned. He first appeared in court on 8 August and was given bail.

This Is Bristol website reported that the stolen equipment had been issued to him as part of his job as deputy governor of the prison, where he also ran the staff photography club.

Some of his photographs of St Helena appear on the flickr website, along with his artistic photography.

When he left the job at Leyhill he failed to return the equipment, even when he went back to the UK on leave. He blamed long-term depression, said the website report.

Morris was ordered to pay £3,616.62 in compensation.

He was also required to remain at his home in West Huntspill, in Somerset, between 8pm and 6am, every night for 12 weeks.

Morris was among more than 50 people on St Helena who received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in May from Governor Mark Capes, “in recognition of their service to the people of St Helena and the United Kingdom.”

The medal was awarded to members of the armed forces, emergency services and prison service who had completed five years of satisfactory duty. 

In July, St Helena Government advertised for a new Deputy Superintendent of Gaols, responsible for day-to-day running of HM Prison Jamestown, with a salary of £40,000 plus benefits.  

Soft sell: inside info that prison job advert doesn’t mention
Prison boss Michael Morris stole from jail – This Is Bristol online news

Chokers in chokey: prisoners get right to smoke inside (comment added)

Her Majesty’s Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw

Inmates of Jamestown prison have been exempted from St Helena’s new ban on smoking in public buildings, which came into force on 1 September 2012.

Under the law, anyone caught smoking in a public building is liable to a fine of £300 – which prisoners would struggle to pay.

The prison service would also have been liable to a fine of £500 for allowing inmates to smoke.

But executive councillors were told on Tuesday 4 September 2012 that special circumstances applied to the prison, and that jails in the UK are also exempt from similar legislation.

‘Allowing them to smoke is going backward’ – see comment, below

Governor Mark Capes said: “It had become apparent that the special circumstances of HM prison, the physical structure of the building and the essential safety and security measures, make it impossible to apply the conditions required by the Tobacco Control Ordinance.

“After some interesting discussion of the special factors prevailing at HM prison, councillors agreed to grant the exemption.”

The island’s new Natural Resources Management Plan was also approved by councillors, after they were assured it would not cut across investment policy or cause extra expenditure.

Reduced petrol and diesel prices, resulting from changes in the value of the US dollar, were reported to the meeting. The cost of diesel had dropped by six pence per litre, and petrol by four pence.

  • Chokey: British slang for a prison, from Hindi caukī – a shed or lock-up

How ridiculous! Allowing them to smoke is going backward and not forward! Let’s look at the big picture for them. How about a “How To Stop Smoking ” class. And what better place to educate them on the benefits of cessation than while in prison. What happened to “how can we help them, how can we educate them?” They are people who have made mistakes, like we all do.
– Doreen Gatien, California

Jamestown prison: whitewashed building with blue balcony over barred door

Soft sell: inside info that prison job advert doesn’t mention

Jamestown prison: whitewashed building with blue balcony over barred door
HMP Jamestown: picture by John Grimshaw

The advertisement for the job of running St Helena’s prison makes it sound almost attractive.

The “chance of a lifetime” job is described as “a challenging role in an outstanding setting” – apparently not a reference to conditions in the prison itself.

There is no mention of the fact that the building has been declared unsuitable and even unsafe, or that conditions are criticised in the island’s human rights plan.

St Helena Government has allocated funding to create a new prison at Sundale, in Half Tree Hollow – but the new facility would not open for at least three years.

The £40,000-a-year job of Deputy Superintendent Gaols is advertised as a two-year contract – with the prospect of time added for good performance.

HMP Jamestown is described as “a small prison able to hold all categories of convicted and  unconvicted male and female adults, young offenders, young people and police prisoners.”

One of the shortcomings identified in the human rights document is that remand prisoners, who are legally innocent, share cells with convicted inmates because the alternative is isolation.

The new deputy superintendent – who would have charge of day-to-day running of the prison, under police chief Peter Coll – is expected to train staff to “meet the demands of modern prison systems”.

That means meeting UK standards “within the limitations of the prison’s physical and financial resources” and “identifying areas of deficiency and producing action plans for  improvement in these areas.”

They will also head up the island’s fledgling probation service – seen as an alternative to prison for some offenders – although experience in this area is only “desirable”.

The advertisement on the St Helena Government careers website says candidates must be highly motivated.

‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

St Helena Government careers
Advertisement: Deputy Superintendent Gaols

‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door
HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Funding has been earmarked to close down St Helena’s “unfit” prison after years of warnings about its condition.

But it could be three years before inmates can be moved to a new prison at Sundale, in Half Tree Hollow.

A report says the prison fails to meet several human rights standards, and chief of police Peter Coll said last year that large parts of the building were unsafe.

Sundale is used for secure accommodation by the health directorate. A new home would have to be found for current residents.

St Helena Government says it could not justify substantial spending to improve the Jamestown jail in the meantime.

The public will be fully consulted “in the next few months” through the planning system. The aim is to move inmates out of Jamestown in 2015.

Peter Coll wrote in July 2011 that the prison dated back to the 1820s and needed urgent upgrading. “It is no longer fit for purpose,” he said, “with large parts of the building built from old wooden and unsafe construction.

“This has been the findings of successive FCO prison advisors over many years.

“Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions.”

The island’s human rights action plan sets out several concerns:

  • There are no fire exits
  • the toilets for the arrested prisoners are in full view of other prisoners and staff, including the female staff
  • cells lack natural light and adequate ventilation.
  • cells are very hot in summer, especially if, as regularly happens, there are three or four people in the cell
  • remand prisoners – who are legally innocent – are kept together with convicted prisoners because the alternative is isolation
  • convicted inmates cannot get to the exercise are when newly-arrested prisoners are in the holding cell, because it blocks the entrance
  • prisoners are often woken during the night as noisy, drunken people are transferred to the holding cells.

A St Helena Government statement says low-cost improvements have been made, including getting prisoners to fit out a doctors’ consulting room.

Funding to develop Sundale as a prison site has been allocated under the 2013-16 Capital Infrastructure Plan, but planning approval is needed first.

“In this context, any significant development of current facilities at the existing site would not be best use of SHG money,” says the statement.

Moving to Sundale would mean young offenders could be managed there, but kept apart from adult prisoners. At the moment St Helena is exempted from an international convention on keeping juveniles separate from adult inmates because the prison is too small.

Peter Coll, writing last year in the St Helena Independent, said people in Half Tree Hollow should not be alarmed by the plan to move prisoners.

He said: “We can reassure residents in the Sundale area that they will actually be safer as a result of being located near to any new prison site, as police and prison officers will provide a constant presence nearby.

“What I can promise is proper consultation about how this will work.”


This would make a fantastic holiday-let one day…

Adam Taylor, UK – via Facebook

UK offers to help reduce offenders’ risk to island society

Human rights on St Helena – St Helena Government