Brixton Prison – ‘Too Much on Hold’ say Inspectors


HMP Brixton needed to do more to build a new culture and ways of working to suit its changed role, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the south London jail.

Some 12 months before the inspection, HMP Brixton been re-designated to a category C/D resettlement prison, ending the role it has had for many years as a category B local prison holding remand and short-sentenced prisoners. The inspection found the prison with plans well advanced but not yet delivered for the major improvements to its facilities required for its new role. Although the prison now held a mixture of category C and low risk category D prisoners, its regime and facilities were little changed from its former category B role. Work was well underway to provide new and refurbished activity buildings that should provide sufficient activity places for the entire population and a new learning and skills manager had begun to address issues of quality and prisoner achievement. However, there was a danger of too much reliance being placed on the new provision to resolve all the prison’s problems and not enough was being done to make improvements that were needed now.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the prison was operating at 60% over its certified normal capacity and many prisoners shared small, cramped cells;
  • there was far too little activity for the size of the population, so many prisoners were locked in their cells for more than 20 hours a day;
  • the quality of learning, skills and work activities was too often inadequate and overall the quantity and quality was unacceptable in any prison, but particularly so in a resettlement prison;
  • offender management arrangements were poor and serious delays in completing risk assessments, lack of contact with offender supervisors and the placement of prisoners at Brixton too late in their sentence meant it was difficult for many to make progress;
  • prisoners’ frustrations were compounded by security restrictions more appropriate for the prison’s former role as a category B local than its new role as a resettlement prison;
  • prisoners reported very poor relationships with staff;
  • many prisoners found it difficult to get basic needs met, such as the provision of clean clothing;
  • reception arrangements were very poor and prisoners had been left in vans for up to two hours in the middle of the hottest days in the summer; and
  • substance misuse services were good but were undermined by the availability of drugs, such as cannabis, in the prison.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • despite some inadequate learning, skills and work activities, there were some exceptions, such as the bakery, prison radio and external placements for category D prisoners;
  • plans for a restaurant in the prison, staffed by prisoners but open to the public, had the potential to provide valuable opportunities;
  • levels of self-harm were low and those at risk felt well supported; and
  • level of violence were low and there was little use of force.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Brixton prison is at a turning point. This inspection came at a very bad time for the prison – when all the disadvantages of major building works were apparent but none of the advantages of the new provision had yet been realised. However, the fact was that the prison was not yet ready for the category C and D prisoners it now held and too many lacked the opportunities for purposeful activity and rehabilitation they needed. Too much was on hold waiting for the new facilities to be ready and some elements of prisoners’ treatment and conditions were unacceptable – and had remained so for too long.”

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

“Brixton prison was undergoing a significant change when the Chief Inspector visited but since then it has continued to adapt to its new role.

“In January the prison will see further changes with a new range of employment and education initiatives helping to increase productive time out of cell. This includes a new Clink Restaurant opening in February, which will give offenders the chance to learn the skills that can help them secure employment once they leave prison.

“The governor and his staff have been working hard to tackle the issues raised during this inspection and will continue to drive the prison forward in the new year.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 17 December 2013 at
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 1-12 July 2013.
  4. HMP Brixton is a category C/D resettlement prison.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Prisons Press Office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.