HMP LEICESTER – Violence still a problem but clear evidence of improved conditions

 HMP Leicester, one of the oldest prisons in England and Wales, showed commendable signs of improvement in the treatment and conditions for prisoners, despite challenges including continuing high levels of violence, inspectors found.

The small and ageing city centre local prison first opened in 1828. It held 308 prisoners at the time of an inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in January 2018 – about 100 more than it was designed for.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the previous inspection in 2015 found a deteriorating establishment. “It is therefore pleasing to report that our findings at this (2018) inspection evidenced significant improvement across many areas, despite ongoing challenges both operationally and environmentally.

“In 2015 we reported on a prison we considered unsafe. It remained the case that Leicester was still not safe enough, but it is right to acknowledge that the governor and his staff were showing considerable determination in trying to make the situation better.” Recorded violence had fluctuated considerably since 2015 but remained high and had risen further in 2017. About a fifth of violent incidents were judged to be serious and assaults on staff had increased. Use of force by staff and use of segregation and special accommodation similarly remained high.

Despite this violence, inspectors found the prison’s wings were much calmer, with staff showing much greater confidence and control in their supervision of prisoners than previously. Prisoners’ perceptions of their own safety were now more in line with our findings at similar prisons, an improvement on 2015. Drugs and psychoactive substances remained a threat to the stability of the prison although again, Mr Clarke said, the prison showed initiative in trying to address this.

“Tragically, there had been three self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection. Although self-harm had reduced, it remained higher than at other similar prisons. Again, however, it seemed to us that the prison was doing a lot of work to improve the situation.”

Inspectors found the jail to be much cleaner than previously, “although there was no avoiding the implications of living in an environment that dates from the 1820s. Overcrowding was prevalent but some refurbishment had been undertaken and more was planned. Access to amenities was reasonable, mitigating some of the negative aspects of the environment.”

The amount of time prisoners spent out of their cell, and opportunities for association with others, was limited but daily routines were now at least predictable, and far fewer prisoners than in 2015 were locked in cells during the working day. There was quite limited access to the library and gym but good learning and skills provision.

Mr Clarke said:

“The theme of this inspection, and the word we repeatedly return to, is improvement. Leicester is one of the country’s oldest operational prisons and its limitations are not easily overcome. That said, the prison was now well led by a capable governor. The management team were energetic and were dealing with the priorities. Improved staff confidence was clearly evident. Work had been undertaken on a broad front to resolve issues or put in place practical plans and initiatives which should be the basis for further progress. Assessments across all four of our healthy prison tests had improved and outcomes for those held were now at least reasonable in three of these tests. The governor and his staff should be congratulated for the progress they have achieved.”

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

“Significant work has been done to improve safety and conditions at HMP Leicester and I’m pleased that the progress made has been highlighted in this report. The Governor and staff have achieved an encouraging outcome in difficult circumstances. The prison will continue to prioritise safety but will also seek to improve education and employment outcomes in line with the new strategy launched by the Secretary of State for Justice last week.”

Read the Report HERE