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

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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

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