HMP Northumberland has high levels of violence, with more than a quarter of prisoners feeling unsafe, and severe drugs problems, according to an HM Inspectorate of Prisons report.
The prison had suffered six self-inflicted deaths in the last three years but few of the shortcomings identified by investigations into those deaths had been addressed. And there was a “clearly unacceptable” failure to assess the risk posed to the public by many released prisoners.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the leadership team had a wide range of plans and strategies in place to tackle these and other problems “but many of them had yet to achieve their desired effect.”
HMP Northumberland, a category C jailed formed in 2011, was inspected in July and August. Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- Violence had more than doubled since the previous inspection in 2014; 58% had felt unsafe at some time, a significantly higher figure than at similar prisons and much higher than at the last inspection.” Mr Clarke said: “It was also troubling that 28% of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of this inspection, a very high figure by any standards. In the face of this grim picture, one would have expected there to be detailed analysis of the violence, leading to a comprehensive violence reduction plan. This was not what we found. There were plans for the future, but these had not yet come to fruition.”
- Few of the shortcomings identified by Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) investigations into the six self-inflicted deaths since 2104 had been addressed. “This was difficult to comprehend and demanded the personal attention of senior management,” Mr Clarke said.
- A total of 61% of men said that it was easy or very easy to obtain illicit drugs in the jail, and 21% said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the prison. The drug supply reduction strategy was clearly not working, Mr Clarke said.
- Inspectors were particularly concerned that 59% of prisoners covered by MAPPA (multi-agency public protection arrangements to assess risk and protect the public) were being released without confirmation of their MAPPA level. “This was clearly unacceptable in terms of the risk this could potentially pose to the public,” Mr Clarke said.
- There were also serious concerns about some aspects of medicines management.
On a more positive note, inspectors found some excellent work in a residential unit dedicated to older prisoners, and it was obvious that the men valued the opportunity to be there among their peers, away from what they described as “the noise, violence and drugs.” Activities for over 50s in a weekly club run by an Age UK included carpet bowls, speakers, quizzes and table games.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“There was a very clear determination on the part of the director and leadership of the prison to make improvements, and a palpable energy and enthusiasm about their wish to do so. It is to their credit that there were a wide range of plans and strategies in place, but many of them had yet to achieve their desired effect. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is often encouraged to believe that if we had inspected an establishment a few months later than we actually did, we would have seen significant improvements. This report conveys our actual findings at the time of the inspection. It may well be that the plans we were told about will, in due course, lead to improvement, and this may happen at HMP Northumberland. It is to be hoped that this will be the case.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said:
“The Director at HMP Northumberland has taken firm action to drive forward progress at the prison. Since the report, the prison has set up a team to specifically review the prison’s management of violence and additional safer custody staff will also help improve the prison’s self-harm response. We welcome the Inspector’s acknowledgement of the good work taking place in substance misuse services, as well as with older prisoners and families, and will continue to work with the director to address the remainder of the report’s recommendations.”
A copy of the full report, published on 21 November 2017, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons