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HMP Garth: Increase in violence at ‘unsafe’ jail, report says

garth

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons published a report on HMP Garth in which he said….

HMP Garth near Leyland in Lancashire is a category B training prison holding over 800 adult male prisoners.

Built nearly 30 years ago, Garth is a relatively modern institution but holds some very challenging and serious offenders. Nearly every prisoner was serving in excess of four years, with half serving over 10 years. In addition, approximately 300 prisoners were serving indeterminate sentences and over 200 of them were doing life. Nearly everyone had been convicted of serious violent offences and just under a quarter of the population were housed in separated accommodation because they had been convicted of sexual offences. Garth held some very dangerous men and was managing considerable risk.

We last inspected Garth in the summer of 2014.

At the time we found a prison experiencing staff shortages and transitioning to a new role and function. A number of weaknesses were evidenced but we thought problems were being proactively managed. In the wake of that inspection, it was clear that the prison had experienced many difficulties and, we were told, had gone into a steep decline in performance. Under the leadership of a new and proactive governor and management team, however, that decline had, to an extent, been arrested over the last 18 months.

At this inspection it was clear to us that progress had been made, notably with work to support the rehabilitation, progression and ultimate resettlement of offenders. But we also found a prison that was very unsafe. Levels of violence in the prison had increased substantially with many incidents linked to drugs, gangs and debt. Assaults on staff had increased and much of the violence was serious. In our survey, 66% of prisoners told us they had felt unsafe in Garth in the past and 34% told us they felt unsafe now. Some 43% felt victimised by others. About 85 prisoners (in addition to the sex offenders) were held separately because of fears for their safety; the segregation unit was full of prisoners seeking sanctuary and a number of prisoners on the wings were self-isolating and refusing to leave their cells.

Inspectors were similarly very aware of the atmosphere on the wings, which was often tense and occasionally menacing. The prison’s current approach to violence reduction was limited, one dimensional and not working. Linked to the violence, it was clear the prison had a major drug problem. Security was generally effective, intelligence flows were reasonably good and the strategic approach to combating drug supply was improving. This had contributed to a number of very significant drug and illicit alcohol finds recently. Mandatory drug-testing data and the fact that nearly half of all prisoners thought drugs were easily available, however, evidenced the widespread availability of illicit substances and a situation that had worsened since our last inspection.

Use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) was particularly problematic. Staff supervision was also problematic. We saw some good engagement, which was supportive of intelligence flows, but too much that we observed was not good enough. Staff often lacked confidence, were dismissive or disengaged. We saw poor prisoner behaviour go unchallenged and we saw staff grouped together for long periods in wing offices. The wings were simply not supervised well enough. Another significant concern in respect of safety of the prison was the conditions in the segregation unit. In this large and usually full facility, living conditions were very poor. Many prisoners stayed for extended periods and were refusing to locate back onto the wings. Many were displaying very challenging behaviour and some were mentally ill. The regime and interventions were inadequate and the staff in the unit were overwhelmed.

A consequence of this – and of insufficient management oversight – was that corners were being cut and illegitimate decisions such as informal sanctions were being rationalised and justified. The unit required urgent attention. Environmental standards on the units varied greatly. The worst were in a poor condition. Too many prisoners also reported difficulties in accessing basic amenities and kit. Recently introduced prisoner information desks run by prisoners were, however, an improvement. The promotion of equality and diversity had not improved and remained weak. Initiatives to improve outcomes for minorities were sporadic and many groups reported negatively when compared to others. Prisoners were also negative about health care. Despite staff shortages, care was good but access was poor.

The exception was mental health provision, which had increased and was good. Notwithstanding the lack of safety in the prison, the opportunity for progress existed for those prisoners prepared to engage positively. Time unlocked was reasonable by current standards and our colleagues in Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of learning and skills provision as ‘good’ overall. There was enough activity, teaching and coaching was good and prisoners achieved well. In contrast to behaviour on the wings, behaviour in work or education was reasonable. The very high-risk population was served well by some very good offender management work which focused on progression. Work, however, was not helped by the numerous prisoners arriving at Garth without an offender assessment system (OASys) assessment. Public protection work was similarly good and help was available for the very few prisoners discharged from Garth.

To conclude, this was an unusual inspection of contrasting and conflicting outcomes. The progress in rehabilitative work was real and speaks to the potential this establishment has. The prison was, however, one of the most unsafe we have been to in recent times. Violence and drugs dominated the prisoner experience. A new governor and deputy governor were appointed immediately and the management team, in our view, were getting to grips with the challenges they faced, but staff supervision and confidence needed to get better and there needed to be some new thinking on how to reduce violence and maintain better control on the wings.

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