HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire, which holds some of the country’s most dangerous and serious offenders in its population of 510 men, was found by inspectors in January 2018 to be a stable and well-controlled prison.
The high-security jail, in which a quarter of the men are classed as category A prisoners, the highest classification, had suffered “several extremely serious incidents”, including two murders, since the previous inspection in 2014.
Despite the clear risk posed by the prison population, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, inspectors found a “well-controlled environment where most prisoners reported to us that they felt safe.”
Overall levels of violence had not risen, with assaults on prisoners falling since the last inspection, though an increase in assaults against staff was concerning. Overall, though, Mr Clarke said, “strategies and initiatives to combat violence were, in our view, comprehensive and robust.”
Since 2014 at least three prisoners had taken their own lives but there had been good progress in implementing recommendations following investigations into those deaths by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). Support for those at risk of self-harm was generally good.
The management of security was the prison’s main priority and stringent perimeter security undoubtedly contributed to a less significant problem with illicit drugs than inspectors usually see. There was good work to tackle staff corruption. Inspectors also commended the way the prison dealt with the risk of extremism among prisoners.
The general environment at the prison near Evesham was reasonably clean, Mr Clarke said, although the quality of accommodation varied greatly. About half the population was held in ageing house blocks that used the night sanitation system, an arrangement that allowed prisoners access to toilet facilities by the remote electronic unlocking of cells. “Our report details the indignities imposed on prisoners by this arrangement, a system we have criticised repeatedly in the past.”
The promotion of equality and diversity had deteriorated but work to support those with mental health needs was responsive and effective. Time out of cell was reasonable for those who worked, but inspectors found about a third of prisoners locked up during the working day. Public protection work was good and resettlement arrangements for the tiny number of men who were released were effective.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“Long Lartin, despite the challenges, remains a fundamentally capable prison. Its response to some of the very serious operational challenges it has had to deal with has been robust and measured and, in that sense, the establishment had not been knocked off course. Key challenges it had still to deal with concerned the legacy of some very poor accommodation and the need to routinely provide sufficient supervisory staff to sustain the daily routine. Key strengths remained a good staff culture which supported respectful engagement with prisoners and a competent management team with a good grip on the issues.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:
“I’m pleased that the Chief Inspector has highlighted the excellent work done with long-sentenced, high-risk prisoners at Long Lartin. The Governor and her team have worked hard to provide a positive regime and more staff are now being recruited to further expand activity levels. Prisoners at Long Lartin all have single cells. We will review the operation of the electronic unlock system to minimise delays as far as possible, but we have no immediate plans to replace it given other funding priorities across the service.”
Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said it was a ‘fairly positive’ report.
Mr Leech said: “This is a difficult population to manage but largely staff, according to this fairly positive report, have achieved the best they can with the resources they have to work with – but the redeployment of Oasys staff for 45% of their time is a worrying development.
“The Night Sanitation system was degrading and often unusable over 30 years when I was locked up there – today it is simply unacceptable that it is still in operation.”
A copy of the full report, published on 22 May 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons