HMP Bullingdon – Progress held back by shortage of staff

Bullingdon-PrisonHMP Bullingdon had started to improve but needed to do much more, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local and resettlement prison in Oxfordshire.

HMP Bullingdon held about 1,100 adult men and young adults at the time of the inspection. The prison had a complex population for which it needed to carry out a number of distinct functions. About 40% of the men held used the prison under its new role as a local resettlement prison serving the courts of the Thames Valley area and some further afield, and preparing men for release. For the remaining 60% of category C prisoners, it acted as a training prison. The prison had been through a difficult period before this inspection. However, the establishment had begun to turn the corner, although it was still getting to grips with its new resettlement function and progress was held back by significant staff shortages in a number of critical roles. A new community resettlement company, Thames Valley CRC, had recently taken over responsibility for resettlement services for medium- and low-risk offenders but it was too early to judge how effective the new arrangements would be. Some teething problems were evident.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • data on levels of violence was unreliable and could not be used effectively to plan how to reduce violent incidents;
  • outcomes for prisoners with protected characteristics, such as disability, were not monitored adequately and the prison did not know if they were being treated equitably;
  • prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds reported much more negatively than the rest of the population;
  • very large offender assessment system (OASys) backlogs hindered prisoners’ progression and compromised the management of their risk;
  • although the prison felt calm, more prisoners than at the last inspection said they did not feel safe;
  • the rise in the availability and use of Spice was a serious threat, leading to debt and bullying and there was no effective prison-wide strategy to reduce the supply of drugs;
  • there had been five self-inflicted deaths since 2012 and although prisoners at risk of self-harm said they felt well cared for, not enough was being done to reduce the risk of further deaths and to implement the Prison and Probation Ombudsman’s recommendations;
  • despite having enough places to meet the needs of the population, attendance at education and training was just 50% and inspectors found more than a third of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day;
  • the prison was on a restricted regime as a result of staff shortages; and
  • there was no strategy that set out how the prison would tackle the rehabilitation of its complex population, and offender management processes were undermined by acute staff shortages.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • despite the staff shortages, relationships between staff and prisoners were generally good and inspectors saw effective direction of staff by supervising officers who had recently been reintroduced onto the wings;
  • the ‘support and mentoring unit’ was a very good initiative where prisoners who were identified as likely to struggle on normal location were allocated a mentor who helped them develop the confidence to integrate;
  • levels of self-harm were now much lower than in comparable prisons and prisoners subject to suicide and self-harm case management said they felt well cared for;
  • despite the overcrowding, the general environment was good;
  • health care was improving and was now reasonably good; and
  • the management of learning and skills and the quality of provision still required improvement, although action had been taken to halt a decline in performance and to address high staff absence levels.


Nick Hardwick said:

“It is clear that there is a big job to do to improve HMP Bullingdon. A start had been made on this work prior to the inspection. Good relationships and a good environment created important foundations for progress and improvements in purposeful activity and health care were evident. Work on equality and diversity issues was just getting off the ground and the new CRC created both opportunities and risks. Nevertheless, at the time of the inspection, overall outcomes were not good enough and the prison carried some significant risks. This report sets out some priority recommendations which we hope will assist the prison in making the necessary improvements.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“Staff shortages had impacted on the quality of the regime at HMP Bullingdon but as the Chief Inspector acknowledges, the Governor and his team had taken firm action to improve performance prior to this inspection in June.

“Since the inspection, 20 new members of staff have been recruited and progress has accelerated.

“More prisoners are now taking part in education and training, and the Governor has intensified action to tackle the supply of psychoactive substances.

“There remains some way to go and the Governor will use the recommendations in this report to drive further improvement over the coming months.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 29 October 2015 at:

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