Swansea jail settled but the prison was complacent about serious incidents of self harm and in a prison with four self inflicted deaths since the last inspection the prison was ignoring advice about fatal incidents from the Prisons Ombudsman
HMP Swansea is a local prison serving the courts of South Wales and holding up to 455 adult and young adult male prisoners. With an inner city location and on a compact site, the prison is a typical traditional Victorian establishment, although there are two newer wings. We last undertook a full inspection in 2010, when we found a prison that had achieved reasonably good outcomes.
A brief follow up visit in late 2012 found that progress in the implementation of our recommendations was mixed. At this latest inspection outcomes for prisoners were also mixed. Swansea prison had a number of significant advantages. It had a full complement of staff who were all fairly settled and experienced. The prison was also of a manageable size with a defined role.
Its situation ensured significant connection with the community and prisoners, who were mostly local, were pleased to be held close to home. The prison was a reasonably safe place. Prisoners were treated reasonably well on arrival although induction of new arrivals needed to be better. Violent incidents were few and in our survey prisoners reported positively about their perceptions of their own safety. Our own observations suggested a settled institution, although there was evidence to suggest work to tackle bullying and supporting victims needed greater rigour.
Sadly there had been four self-inflicted deaths since our last full inspection, although only one of these had occurred in the last two years. The number of self-harm incidents was low, but some incidents were serious and there was evidence of some complacency in the prison’s approach to this important issue. We were not assured that enquiries into incidents were thorough and the prison was not acting on recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following his investigation into these deaths. The case management documentation of those in crisis was poor but prisoners in crisis told us they felt cared for.
The prison faced a number of security challenges, in particular confronting the issue of illicit drugs which could easily be thrown over the prison wall. Mandatory drug testing showed that the prison was just within its target but there was evidence of significant spikes in activity throughout the year. More prisoners than at comparator establishments thought it was easy to get drugs into the prison.
The prison was compact, and maintaining environmental standards was difficult, but the external and communal areas were reasonably well kept. However, accommodation was varied: much of it was overcrowded or in a poor state of repair. Insufficient furniture, access to showers, the provision of kit and other basic amenities all needed improvement. The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners remained good but there was evidence that prisoners felt less respected than previously.
Arrangements to ensure that the quality of relationships between staff and prisoners were used purposefully – for example, the personal officer scheme – were ineffective. Work to support, monitor and promote equality and diversity was poor. Prisoners from minority groups were not systematically identified, the investigation of incidents was inadequate, and provision for most minority groups was minimal. The amount of time out of cell that prisoners experienced was reasonable and better than we often see at this type of prison, but there were not enough education or training opportunities and many prisoners were not fully occupied.
Overall, the provision of learning and skills had deteriorated. The prison had analysed need and had in place a useful development plan but progress towards delivery was slow. Assessment of learner needs was not comprehensive and work provision was limited. The development of employability skills was lacking and prisoners were not sufficiently prepared for the labour market. Punctuality and attendance also needed to improve. The achievement of qualifications was adequate, but most qualifications were at lower levels with few opportunities for progression.
Resettlement services lacked leadership and direction, which was a concern, as the prison was transitioning to become a resettlement prison. Plans were not sufficiently linked to the prison’s own analysis of need, and structures to support and monitor delivery were inadequate. Many offender assessments, if they were completed at all, lacked depth, and many risk of harm screening and assessments were insufficient. Sentence planning was too generic and contact between prisoners and their supervisors were poor. Work across the resettlement pathways was generally much better, with most prisoners receiving an assessment prior to release and a significant number of prisoners indicating that they believed someone had helped them to prepare for their release. Work to support prisoners and families, delivered in partnership with the Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) was very good.
Overall Swansea has many positive features but there are obvious areas for improvement. The prison is settled and has a traditional feel and culture. This could be a strength but care needs to be taken to ensure the prison is not allowed to drift into complacency. Expectations on the part of both staff and prisoners do not appear very high. There is a platform for improvement at Swansea but this is a mixed report. Many of our positive judgements were only marginally so, and the prison needs to be energised, rejuvenated and refocused on delivering better outcomes.