Thameside Prison – a Serco jail facing considerable challenges

HMP Thameside … operated by Serco.

HMP Thameside had made progress in many areas, but still faced considerable challenges, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons as he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the south London local prison – causing one commentator to remark that the lack of activity, high levels of violence and disciplinary reports recorded at the prison indicated a prison barely in control.

HMP Thameside opened in early 2012. It was inspected nine months after it first opened in response to concerns about the establishment at the time. Inspectors’ findings then were mixed. They commented on the challenges managers and staff faced in bringing stability to the prison, shown in particular by the near lockdown restriction in place at the time, largely as a response to violence. This inspection, 20 months later, found a prison that has made considerable progress with improvement evident across all healthy prison tests: safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. Although Thameside continued to face significant operational challenges, work to promote safety was very promising.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

the prison managed 1,500 movements through its reception each month and arrangements to manage new arrivals had been streamlined and improved;
although levels of violence remained high, prisoners reported positively about their feelings and perceptions of safety;
the prison was working hard to understand the challenges of bullying better and was undertaking useful initiatives, including work to tackle gang affiliations;
work to protect those at risk of self-harm was reasonably good and prisoners in crisis said they felt well cared for;
security was more proportionate, the near lockdown had ceased and free movement to activities was well supervised;
the environment was well maintained and relationships between staff and prisoners remained a strength;
the amount of time prisoners experienced out of cell was reasonable at between four and eight hours a day; and
resettlement provision was generally good, particularly in support of contact with children and families.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

tragically, there had been a self-inflicted death, but the prison was working to implement the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman who had investigated the death;
use of force and the number of disciplinary investigations was high and had increased, reflecting the significant number of violent incidents;
there remained too few activity places and about 350 prisoners, a third of the population, had no activity at all; and
links to, and support from, probation staff in the community were weak and offender management work inside the prison needed to improve.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Opening a new prison is difficult but Thameside was comprehensively better than the establishment we inspected in 2012 and was now arguably one of the better local prisons in the capital. The problem of violence and gang membership remained significant, as did the lack of purposeful activity, but managers and staff were actively addressing these challenges. Facilities and the prison environment were very good; we found a respectful staff culture and there were some good initiatives to engage with and consult prisoners. It is clear that a considerable amount of work has been undertaken and there has been progress on a broad front.”

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

“Thameside manages a complex and difficult group of offenders, and the Director and staff deserve credit for the progress they have made.

“The opening of a new prison is a significant challenge, but they have worked well to establish a safe and decent regime that includes an innovative approach to tackling issues of violence and gang affiliation.

“They will continue to build on the positive start that they have made, and the recommendations in this report will help the prison continue to improve and address the challenges that remain.”

But Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national prisons newspaper, and The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report painted a far from positive picture.

Mr Leech said: “This is a modern jail which has now been opened almost three years, Serco should be on top of the management issues but it is clear from this report that they are far from that.

“The high levels of violence, large number of disciplinary reports and the absolute lack of purposeful activity for around 33% of the prison’s population reveals a jail management is barely in control – and far from resolving issues they actually exacerbate them.”

Read the Report

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