HMP Brixton was not safe, and the work, training and education it provided for prisoners needed to improve, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local London jail – it is the second report of unsafe London prisons in two days
HMP Brixton is one of the country’s oldest prisons. Although historically a local prison, it has in recent years been operating as a training establishment for category C and D prisoners. The limitations of the environment mean it is always a challenge to run Brixton well, but clarification of its changed function had been a step forward and the basis for recent improvement. Progress, however, had not been maintained. Staff shortages, as well as, until recently, managerial drift, had led to a significant decline in outcomes, notably in safety but also in the quality of learning and skills activity.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- arrangements to receive new prisoners had worsened since the last inspection in 2014;
- almost a third of prisoners, when surveyed, said they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection;
- levels of violence had increased and were high, and the prison’s response was wholly inadequate;
- the number of self-harm incidents had quadrupled since the last inspection, and care for those at risk of self-harm was generally poor;
- although some good work was being done to increase security, the prison was awash with drugs, undermining everything that was being done to promote prisoner wellbeing;
- the prison remained a poor, cramped, overcrowded environment;
- relationships between staff and prisoners needed to improve, the situation not helped by severe staff shortages;
- time out of cell had deteriorated, although a temporary regime had brought greater predictability of when prisoners would be out of their cells;
- nearly a quarter of prisoners were locked up during the working day, which undermined attempts at rehabilitation; and
- there were enough work, training and education places, but the restricted regime meant prisoners couldn’t always attend or get there on time.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that:
- health care provision was reasonable overall;
- some vocational training was exceptional;
- key processes such as parole and home detention curfew assessments were completed on time and public protection work was sound; and
- plans to reintegrate prisoners back into the community showed some good features.
Peter Clarke said:
“We inspected Brixton at a difficult time. A new governor had been recently appointed and there were signs of new initiatives and developing plans that were beginning to arrest and address the deterioration. There was a candour and openness on the part of managers concerning the problems they faced and optimism about their capacity to improve the prison. We did not consider that the prison had already turned a corner, but there were signs of progress that must be sustained.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:
“At the time of the inspection Brixton was managing a range of operational pressures exacerbated by staffing shortfalls.
“As the Inspectorate notes, a new and experienced Governor was appointed in October and he has put plans in place to urgently address the areas of concern, prioritising safety and regime delivery.
“We are recruiting more Prison Officers for Brixton and across the prison estate. I am confident that with additional resources in place the Governor and his team will achieve the improvements required.”
A copy of the full report, published on 15 June, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons