HMP North Sea Camp was recovering from a difficult period following a very serious temporary release failure. Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) was now much more rigorously and safely managed but staff shortages were adversely affecting the prison’s central task of reducing the risk the men it held reoffended after release, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the open prison in Lincolnshire.

HMP North Sea Camp holds a complex population of about 400 men, most of whom are coming to the end of long sentences. The important task of the prison was to test these men’s readiness for release and to prepare them for it. A vital tool should have been the use of release on temporary licence (ROTL) which, when properly managed, provides a means to carefully test a prisoner as they gradually experience work, rehabilitation services, the wider community and family relationships outside the prison. ROTL assists the rehabilitation process and the failure rates nationally are very low: in 2012-13 less than 1% of all releases on temporary licence were recorded as failures and the proportion of those failures that led to an arrestable offence were 6.7%, or less than seven in every 100,000 releases.

However, in 2013 there were a series of catastrophic ROTL failures when serious offences were committed. HM Inspectorate of Prisons was asked by the Justice Secretary to review the circumstances of three of those cases, one of which had occurred at North Sea Camp. The report will be published when the trials of all the men involved have concluded. ROTL processes had become slack and it had come to be seen as an automatic entitlement rather than a carefully controlled privilege. The Justice Secretary quickly implemented changes to ROTL and processes are improving nationally.

However, consequences of that failure had profound effects on the prison. At the time of the inspection, ROTL processes had improved and were much safer, but the prison was struggling to manage the extra work involved and these pressures were exacerbated by staff shortages in the offender management unit (OMU) which should have been at the heart of the process.

Other findings included:

prisoners reported higher levels of bullying than seen in similar prisons and not enough was being done to understand their concerns;
security arrangements were generally good but there was a problem with the availability of new psychoactive substances, such as ‘Black Mamba’;
prisoners reported good relationships with staff and the excellent prisoner advice centre provided very good support on a range of issues;
not enough prisoners gained qualifications or recognition for the vocational and employability skills they acquired; and
although it took longer for prisoners to obtain an external work placement, there were sufficient activity places in the prison itself.

Nick Hardwick said:

“At the time of this inspection North Sea Camp was recovering from a difficult period. In view of its staff shortages, it had got its priorities right and was concentrating on making sure the men it held were managed safely while they were in the prison. However, the progress it has made needs to continue so that it does more, not just to hold men safely during their sentence, but to reduce the risk they pose of reoffending after release.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“As the Chief Inspector points out, temporary release is a vital tool in preparing long-serving prisoners for release and I’m pleased that he has concluded that after a thorough review the processes are now much more rigorously and safely managed.

“Every prisoner is subject to a full and very detailed and rigorous multi-agency risk assessment, and North Sea Camp has been improving its internal procedures and recruiting staff to increase the amount of administration time available to complete the rigorous assessment processes.

“The Chief Inspector highlighted that the Governor has properly prioritised safety, and the prison will continue to be given the support they need to maintain the progress which has been made.”

Read the report