HMP Kirkham, an open prison in Lancashire holding more than 600 men drawing close to the end of long sentences, nearly half for drugs offences, was found by inspectors to be a safe and successful prison.

There was little violence or bullying among prisoners, including 117 classed as presenting a high risk of harm and a fifth of whom were linked to organised crime gangs. Use of force by staff was rare. Inspectors noted that the prison was trying to create a “motivational and incentivising” culture.

However, many prisoners said they felt victimised by rude and abrupt staff. Their “very negative” perceptions about the attitude of some staff were at variance with the survey of staff, 72% of whom thought staff-prisoner relationships were good.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “There was sufficient evidence, in our view, to suggest the prisoners may have had a point, and that the approach of some, certainly too many, staff was unsupportive of the ethos to which the prison aspired. Addressing this shortcoming in the quality of staff-prisoner relationships was the key priority to emerge from this inspection.”

The grounds at Kirkham were immaculate, with one prisoner telling inspectors the grounds had “a pacifying effect on previously violent prisoners.”

Prisoners were never locked in their rooms and had access to reasonably good education and training. The prison made extensive use of release on temporary licence (ROTL). Six prisoners had absconded from HMP Kirkham in the six months leading up to the inspection in June and July 2018, compared to 13 in the first six months of 2017. Breaches of ROTL had also fallen in recent months.

Drug misuse was a serious problem for the prison and had worsened since the previous inspection in 2013. Most positive tests were for cannabis (51%) and cocaine (25%). There had been no positive tests for new psychoactive substances (NPS), synthetic drugs which have caused huge problems in other jails.

Outcomes in the prison’s core function of resettlement were judged to be reasonably good overall, although more needed to be done to ensure greater continuity, consistency and coherence in the work.

Mr Clarke said:

“Kirkham continues to be an effective open resettlement prison. Good outcomes were evident and this was reflected in a good report. A cautionary note would be that the prison needed to guard against complacency. Offender management provision required some new and joined-up thinking and, in our view, staff needed to ensure they were fully committed to the prison’s values and purpose.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“As the Chief Inspector makes clear, Kirkham is a safe prison which achieves good outcomes and supports effective rehabilitation. The work to assist prisoners into employment on release has been particularly impressive. Respect for prisoners was rated “reasonably good”, but we are fully committed to delivering a positive rehabilitative culture and the Governor has started consultation with staff and prisoner groups to improve relationships.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook described the report as ‘honest and positive.”

Mr Leech said: “Having served time in a number of open prisons the negative attitude of some staff is always the main problem in such places, forever threatening a return to closed conditions for the slightest misdemeanour.

“Governors need to address this and not, as in Kirkham, overlook it.

“It leads to increases in absconds and ROTL failures – prisoners are not in custody to be threatened by staff who in many cases have no place in a modern prison system.”

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