The Prison Service must grip and support HMP Bristol to improve after years of decline and “seemingly intractable failure”, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Mr Clarke published a full report on an inspection of HMP Bristol in May and June 2019 which, at the time, identified such serious problems that the Chief Inspector invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) process. Under the UN protocol, the Secretary of State must respond within 28 days, publicly, with plans to improve the jail.
Bristol has declined over four inspections since 2013 (see ‘Facts’ below), with safety assessed as poor, the lowest grading, in 2017 and 2019.
Mr Clarke said he had expressed some optimism at the time of the 2017 inspection that the prison might improve. However, “despite subsequent important initiatives within the prison (including the recruitment of many staff, some new investment and the designation of Bristol by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) as a prison under ‘special measures’, at this (2019) inspection we were again unable to report on any significant improvement to overall outcomes.
“We last reported more positively about this prison some nine years ago in 2010, but since then… it has been a record of seemingly intractable failure. The report, similarly to the UN letter in June 2019, sets out disturbing findings:
- High levels of violence against prisoners and staff, some serious, and high use of force by staff (though body-worn camera footage showed de-escalation of incidents by staff.) Many prisoners felt unsafe.
- Many prisoners spent too long locked up during the working day.
- Around 40% of cells were designed for one prisoner but held two, affecting 260 men in bleak and “unacceptably cramped” conditions.
- Poor conditions heightened the risk for men in crisis. Self-harm levels were high. The number of assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management documents opened for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm was extraordinarily high, and was unmanageable.
- The safer custody hotline, for friends and family to raise concerns, was not checked and prisoners had been unable to call the Samaritans from their cells for several weeks before the inspection.
- Nearly half of prisoners were released homeless or into temporary accommodation.
Inspectors found, though, that the prison had enjoyed some success in tackling drugs.
Mr Clarke added: “Bristol may not have reached the extreme lack of order and crisis seen in some other prisons and this report acknowledges some developments and some improvements, but many initiatives were poorly coordinated, applied inconsistently or not well embedded.”
Repeated requests for the prison to provide the Inspectorate with meaningful objectives or an assessment of the impact of ‘special measures’ in driving improvement were unsuccessful. “We were left with little confidence that the prison had a coherent and robust plan to impact and improve outcomes meaningfully.”
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“In 2017 the cautious optimism to which I referred gave me grounds to think that the leadership at Bristol, supported regionally and nationally, might be able to make progress. The current reality however, shows this did not happen. I hope this report and the UN that preceded it constitute a timely reminder that HMP Bristol needs to be gripped and supported at all levels of management in HMPPS.”
Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:
“Since the Urgent Notification in June, we have taken swift action to improve conditions and the support available to prisoners at risk of self-harm. Extra training is being given to officers, and a new method for challenging poor behaviour has been introduced to tackle violence. Major refurbishment of one wing has been completed, a new education centre opened this week and further renovations are to come. Reducing violence, self-harm and drug use will remain top priorities, and the newly appointed Governor will receive my full support at Bristol.”
- The full report, published on 18 September 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons
- HMP Bristol is a category B local and resettlement prison, holding male adult and young adult prisoners. At the time of this inspection 464 men were resident, a slightly reduced roll, caused by the temporary closure of the prison’s D wing for refurbishment. The prison was built in 1883. B and C wings were added in the 1960s.
- HMP Bristol has declined over four inspections:
|Healthy prison assessments since 2013|
|Safety||Respect||Purposeful activity||Resettlement/rehabilitation and release planning|
- Notable features from this inspection: more than 10% of the population were subject to assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management procedures; around 40% of cells held more prisoners than they were designed for; about 20% of the population had been recalled to prison; 62% of prisoners said that they had felt unsafe at some time at the prison; 62% of prison officers were within their first two years of service; 19% of prisoners said that they had developed a drug problem at the prison; only about 25% of prisoners attended activities at any time; about 47% of prisoners were released homeless or into temporary accommodation.
- This unannounced inspection took place between 20 May and 7 June 2019.