HMP Bullingdon – a large, complex prison in Oxfordshire – faced significant challenges, including high levels of violence, drugs and gang problems and poor offender management and assessment of post-release risk to the public, according to Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons – but the reality is that this inspection shows 70% of recommendations made two years ago have still not been implemented.
However, in a report on an unannounced inspection published today, Mr Clarke found ‘realistic’ grounds for optimism. The governor and staff were doing their best to improve a prison where many of the problems stemmed from severe, ongoing staff shortages, restricting prison activities. The key message of the report, Mr Clarke said, was “the urgent need for increased staffing.”
Built 25 years ago, Bullingdon is a relatively modern local and resettlement prison near Bicester in Oxfordshire, serving the Thames Valley and holding – at the time of the inspection in April and May – 1,109 adult and young adult prisoners. This was only five short of its operational capacity.
About 1/5 of those held were unsentenced or unconvicted, others represented the full range of sentences, including nearly 200 men serving over 10 years and up to life.
HMIP last inspected Bullingdon in 2015, when it was found to be struggling to maintain staffing levels. The 2017 report found “a not dissimilar picture.”
Inspectors found that:
Bullingdon was not safe enough. About a third of prisoners felt unsafe and violence remained high, despite some early signs that it was, at last, reducing. However, the prison was actively addressing this challenge.
Bullingdon was one of the few public sector prisons where prisoners could get a full shop order within 24 hours of arrival, an example of good practice that reduced their chances of falling into debt and related bullying. Despite this, though, too many prisoners felt victimised.
There was clear evidence of a significant drug and gang problem in the prison, with regular finds of drugs, mobile phones and weapons. The report identified violence as a key problem, along with staffing.
Since the 2015 inspection, three prisoners had taken their own lives, and there had been a significant increase in self-harm incidents. Unlike the prison’s focus on violence reduction, work to support those at risk of self-harm was weak.
Like violence, use of force was much increased, but supervision was now better than in 2015.
Staff shortages cut the amount of time cells were unlocked and inspectors found that during the working day 45% of prisoners were locked in their cells.
Despite having a significant number of higher-risk prisoners, including high-risk sexual and violent prisoners, the quality of offender management was again undermined by staff shortages and was poor. Too few prisoners had a proper assessment of their risks or a meaningful sentence plan. Public protection arrangements also needed to improve.
Though resettlement work showed some improvement since 2015, the prison’s resettlement strategy did not adequately set out the important role of the offender management unit (OMU) in managing higher-risk and longer-term prisoners. It also failed to promote offender management as the central point of all action aimed at reducing reoffending.
Inspectors were told that there was no provision of offence-focused work for perpetrators of domestic violence.
Peter Clarke said:
“The key message from this inspection was the urgent need for increased staffing. It was clear to us that this was a strategic problem that was undermining everything the prison was trying to do. Despite this… many – not least the governor – were doing their best to effect improvement and were proving capable in doing so. This suggested that there was cause for continued optimism.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:
“The Governor and his team are committed to improving outcomes for prisoners at HMP Bullingdon. The prison does need more staff and we are providing the Governor with central support to accelerate recruitment of permanent staff. In the meantime additional prison officers are being provided to HMP Bullingdon from other establishments to ensure that the Governor can deliver a structured and decent regime for prisoners on a daily basis.”
Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook said: “No matter how positive HMIP may try to sound, and I understand the need to provide support, the basic brutal reality is that in the two years since the last inspection at Bullingdon, in terms of safety, respect, purposeful activity and release planning, 70% of the recommendations made two years ago have not been implemented.
“Every single one of the vital areas of a Healthy Prison simply was not good enough or even near good enough.
“This is not a lack of will on the ground, it is the age-old problem that if you do not give the people the tools they cannot do the job.
“The Governor of Bullingdon can’t march into the office of the Justice Secretary, but Peter Clarke the Chef Inspector of Prisons can – but we hear nothing about him doing that and as an independent holder of a statutory office the public have a right to know what he is doing.”
A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons