Safety had deteriorated at HMP Leeds, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local prison in West Yorkshire.
HMP Leeds is a large Victorian inner city prison. For many years the prison had a poor reputation but at a previous inspection in January 2013, inspectors found a very different picture. While the prison then was hugely overcrowded, outcomes for the men held had improved and inspectors assessed them as reasonably good or better in all four healthy prison tests: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. This more recent inspection saw that outcomes had deteriorated markedly, particularly in safety. Despite this, inspectors observed good leadership at the prison and an essentially positive staff culture.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- levels of violence had increased significantly and were double what is typically seen in local prisons;
- the prevalence of new psychoactive substances was a major factor in increased violence, despite some robust action being taken;
- there had been seven self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection in 2013 and although staff were caring, some issues identified following Prison and Probation Ombudsman investigations needed to be fully addressed;
- early days processes needed to improve: the reception environment was poor and reception staff sometimes failed to pass on key information about vulnerabilities;
- use of force and segregation was high and oversight of special accommodation was poor;
- levels of crowding were very high and the majority of cells were poorly equipped;
- prisoners were negative about their ability to obtain sufficient bedding, clothing and cleaning materials;
- the number of staff in daily contact with prisoners had decreased significantly since 2013, which was having an impact;
- the promotion of equality and diversity had dipped in the previous year, but was now returning to its previous good level; and
- some aspects of offender management had deteriorated and there were weaknesses in some public protection work.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that:
- support was generally good for men with substance misuse problems;
- given the age of the prison, the accommodation was reasonably well maintained and the environment was clean;
- the staff culture was basically positive and decent but wing-based staff were stretched;
- time out of cell was reasonable for a local prison, with most men having about seven hours out of their cell each day during the working week;
- the learning and skills provision had improved and was good, with strong leadership;
- partnership working in resettlement was very strong and the new community rehabilitation company (CRC) resettlement arrangements had quickly bedded in and were working efficiently; and
- resettlement support and ‘through the gate’ work was good, and support provided to help men maintain contact with their families was impressive.
Martin Lomas said:
“This was a disappointing inspection of a prison which we assessed to have deteriorated in three of our four healthy prison tests. Fundamental issues around safety were having a significant destabilising impact across the prison and needed to be addressed urgently. It was also concerning that some aspects of early days support were too frail to provide reassurance that the many vulnerable men received into the prison were provided with an appropriate level of care. The new governor and his team had made a good start in getting to grips with these challenges and it was positive to see that they had a good understanding of the issues faced, as well as plans or ongoing actions to address them.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“Since the Inspection in 2013 Leeds, like other public sector prisons, has implemented new working arrangements to significantly reduce cost to the taxpayer. At the same time it has had to cope with a huge increase in the illicit supply of ‘new psychoactive substances’ which have fuelled instability and violence. Given this context staff deserve credit for achieving good outcomes on purposeful activity and resettlement and for maintaining a positive relationship with prisoners.
“Improving safety is the number one priority – and concerted action is being taken to combat illicit drugs and to provide better support for vulnerable prisoners. As the Inspectorate points out, the Governor and his senior team are providing good leadership and they will receive the support they need to make the improvements required.”
A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 27 April 2016 at: justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons