A high security prison in Thamesmead has sparked concerns after a report found that a quarter of inmates at HMP Belmarsh spend 22 hours each day confined in their cells.

A recent Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) report reveals that His Majesty's Prison Belmarsh, which is Category A men's prison, is facing a number of problems in the institution.

Although the prison generally maintains proper staffing levels, an unwillingness to relax stringent security measures hinders prisoners from engaging in any meaningful activities.

The report claims that “there is a lack of opportunity for prisoners to experience a full and purposeful regime due to safety concerns over gang violence and conflicts”.

The IMB's annual study also highlighted lingering issues, including mental health provision and prisoner complaints.

The report found that the process to assess and accommodate inmates with mental health needs continues to be lengthy.

The document reads: “Over the year there were several occasions when officers or IMB had to chase up the mental health team if a prisoner on a houseblock was seen to be suffering from mental illness and they would eventually visit and make an assessment.

“If there was a space, they could be accommodated in healthcare.

“It is concerning that at the time of writing a new mental health team is not yet in place under the new provider – this is an essential element that must be organised as a matter of urgency.”

Grievances from inmates concerning missing property were often flagged during inter-prison transfer and have doubled in the past year.

A number of inmates at HMP Belmarsh are currently serving indefinite Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, despite having received comparatively brief tariffs more than a decade ago.

The Independent Monitoring Board deems the prolonged incarceration of these individuals as inhumane, raising serious ethical concerns about the extended duration of their imprisonment.

The contract for healthcare was awarded to the prison in February 2023 but at the end of the reporting year in June 2023, the provision of mental health nurses had been reduced to less than one full time equivalent.

Chair of the IMB, Peter Ward, said: “Belmarsh can be a very challenging place and although staff are to be commended for the way they maintain day-to-day safety and security, this has resulted in limited opportunities for prisoners to engage in purposeful activity, education, or resettlement work.

“Furthermore, prisoners with severe mental health issues are not being moved to more therapeutic environments which also places a strain on prison staff and facilities.”