HMP Durham: Must Address Violence, Drugs and Deaths says Inspectors

HMP Durham, a heavily overcrowded prison, was found by inspectors to have significant problems with drugs and violence and worryingly high levels of self-harm and self-inflicted and drug-related deaths.

Durham became a reception prison in 2017. Around 70% of the 900 men in the jail were either on remand or subject to recall and over 70% had been in Durham for less than three months. On average, 118 new prisoners arrived each week. Significant numbers of prisoners said they arrived at the jail feeling depressed or suicidal. Self-harm was very high.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Our overriding concern was around the lack of safety. Since the last inspection in October 2016, there had been seven self-inflicted deaths, and it was disappointing to see that the response to recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (which investigates deaths) had not been addressed with sufficient vigour or urgency.

“There had also been a further five deaths in the space of eight months where it was suspected that illicit drugs might have played a role.” Drugs were readily available in the jail and nearly two-thirds of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs; 30% said they had acquired a drug habit since coming into the prison. “These were very high figures”, Mr Clarke said, though the prison had developed a strategy to address the drugs problem.

The leadership, Mr Clarke added, was “immensely frustrated by the fact that they had no modern technology available to them to help them in their efforts to stem the flow of drugs into the prison. We were told that they had been promised some modern scanning equipment but that it had been diverted to another prison.” The scale of the drugs problem and related violence meant that technological support was urgently needed.

Since the last inspection at Durham in 2016, violence had doubled and the use of force by staff had increased threefold, though some of the increase in force may have been due to new staff who were not yet confident in using de-escalation techniques. Governance of the use of force had improved.

Mr Clarke added: “There were some very early signs that the level of violence was beginning to decline, but it was too early to be demonstrable as a sustainable trend.”

Alongside these concerns, inspectors noted “many positive things happening at the prison.” These included the introduction of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks on the wings for prisoners to make applications, which had “undoubtedly been beneficial”. The disruption caused by prisoners needing to be taken to court had been reduced by the extensive use of video links.

A new and more predictable daily regime had recently been introduced, increasing access for men to amenities such as showers and laundry on the wings. “For a prison of this type, the time out of cell enjoyed by prisoners was reasonable and it was quite apparent that, despite its age, the prison was basically clean and decent,” Mr Clarke said. It was also good that the leadership saw new staff as an opportunity to make improvements, not an inexperienced liability.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was no doubt that there was an extent to which HMP Durham was still going through the process of defining, refining and responding to its role as a reception prison. The very large throughput of prisoners gave rise to the risk that taking them through the necessary processes could predominate over identifying individual needs and ensuring favourable outcomes. However, the prison was aware of this risk. The most pressing needs are to get to grips with the violence of all kinds, make the prison safer and reduce the flow of drugs. Only then will the benefits flow from the many creditable initiatives that are being implemented.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:

“Apart from security, safety must be the primary function of any prison but the number of deaths at Durham, and particularly the failure to implement the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman designed to reduce deaths in custody, is deeply worrying.

“Only yesterday I wrote an open Letter about this issue to the Ombudsman, and this report reinforces the point that prisons must have the resources to implement PPO recommendations otherwise what is the use of them in the first place?”

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We are determined to install full airport-style security with the right dogs, technology, scanners and search teams to detect drugs.

“We will install the technology in Durham and we will be rolling it out across our local prisons. Tackling drugs is vital for reducing violence.”

Inspection report HMP Durham: Progress needs to be speeded up


Too many services at HMP Durham were not good enough although there was some good practice, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the north east local jail.

HMP Durham holds around 1,000 adult and young adult male prisoners. The jail dates back nearly 200 years, holding people in an aged infrastructure where virtually every cell is holding more people than it should. In addition, the prison has been subject to a competitive tendering process and is currently undertaking management reorganisations and benchmarking exercises. Durham has seen a lot of change and some progress but progress remains too slow.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • prisoner perceptions concerning their own safety seemed to be improving;
  • the prison had begun to tackle drug supply and reduction, while clinical treatment and support for those with drug problems had improved significantly;
  • most prisoners indicated that they felt well treated by segregation staff and inspectors noted the way segregation staff were supporting a man in isolation who had contagious TB but was refusing treatment;
  • the prison had recently opened a new health facility and mental health provision was excellent;
  • the provision of learning and skills activity was a strength and achievements of qualifications in education and vocational training were high;
  • support for resettlement needs was generally good, including some effective work to support prisoners in need of accommodation; and
  • contact and engagement by offender supervisors with prisoners before sentence planning was variable, but better than inspectors often see.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • arrangements to promote safety were not good enough: risk management, assessment and induction arrangements all needed to improve;
  • since its last inspection in 2011, four prisoners had taken their own lives and work to support those in self-harm crisis was weak, although incidents of self-harm seemed to be falling;
  • incidents of violence and anti-social behaviour were higher than expected and monitoring needed to be better;
  • mandatory drug testing suggested illicit drug usage was high and almost twice what would be expected in similar prisons;
  • problems associated with young adults, who were disproportionately represented in both the use of force and segregation, required better understanding by the prison; and
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were lacking and less than two-thirds of prisoners felt respected by staff.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Durham produces some reasonable and, at times, very good outcomes for prisoners. It is unusual that in an old Victorian local prison it is the quality of work activity and learning that is one of the prison’s best features. Resettlement services are also reasonably good. Durham, however, could be a better prison than it currently is. Many services, notably those run by operational staff, were not good enough. The prison has experienced some significant distractions in recent times but these should not be allowed to become excuses. Progress needs to be speeded up.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“Durham has been implementing major changes in working arrangements and has improved its performance whilst significantly reducing cost to the taxpayer. There is more to do – but the Governor and his staff deserve credit for the progress made in challenging circumstances. We will use the recommendations in this report to achieve further improvements over the next 12 months.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 20 May 2014 at:

Prison Officers Were Warned Raoul Moat Would Kill


An inquest into the death of a karate instructor who was blasted by gun maniac Raoul Moat has heard that prison officers were warned of his murderous intentions on the day he was released.

Chris Brown, 29, was gunned down in cold blood after starting a relationship with Moat’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha Stobbart, two days after the spurned lover was released from jail in July 2010. Ms Stobbart was also badly injured by shotgun pellets but survived.

Moat went on the run and the next night shot and blinded Pc David Rathband, who was unarmed and sitting in his marked police car.

The inquest at Newcastle Crown Court heard evidence from a witness who was a prisoner in HMP Durham.

The witness, who cannot be named for legal reasons and was referred to as N1, said after Moat had been released that he told a prison officer he would end up killing someone.

“It was sort of an off-the-cuff comment, but I believe I said ‘He’s a lunatic and will end up killing someone’,” he said.

He also told the court that Moat was unbalanced and would get angry when talking about Ms Stobbart and the police.

“He indicated that he was going to take some sort of revenge against her and her partner,” he said.

The court heard that Moat had made it clear that he would never return to prison whatever happened and that he had also boasted about having access to a shotgun and explosives.

At the start of proceedings a statement was read out by Mr Brown’s mother, Sally, which said that, since his death, it had been hell for the family.

“His friends said he was like Marmite – either you loved him or you hated him,” she said.

“But if you loved him you had a friend for life. He was very loyal, happy-go-lucky and never sat still.

“As soon as he tried karate he said he loved it and was good at it. He enjoyed teaching it and especially teaching children.”

She said in the days leading up to his death he had been in good spirits and they had spoken regularly on the phone.

“It has been horrendous for the whole family, I cannot think of anything worse than burying your own child,” she said.

“I can only think of one word to describe it – hell.”

The court was told that Moat had indicated he intended to commit “suicide by cop”, which meant he would put himself in a position where he was shot by the police.

Evidence was also given that in prison he had described very precisely the outside of Ms Stobbart’s house and said a large green verge would make spying on her difficult.

Witness N1 said Moat had told him that he would “shoot to kill” five people, who were Ms Stobbart, her mother, her new partner, a psychiatrist and a social worker.

The hearing follows the Crown Court trial of two of Moat’s accomplices and an inquest into how Moat shot himself during a stand-off with police in Rothbury, Northumberland.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission and an internal prison inquiry have looked at details of Moat’s release from Durham Prison.

At a pre-inquest hearing, Coroner Terence Carney said those hearings had not allowed relatives of Mr Brown, who was from Slough, Berkshire, to ask questions.

An inquest for Mr Rathband, who was found hanged at his home last year, will be heard next month.