HMP Durham: Must Address Violence, Drugs and Deaths says Inspectors

HMP Durham, a heavily overcrowded prison, was found by inspectors to have significant problems with drugs and violence and worryingly high levels of self-harm and self-inflicted and drug-related deaths.

Durham became a reception prison in 2017. Around 70% of the 900 men in the jail were either on remand or subject to recall and over 70% had been in Durham for less than three months. On average, 118 new prisoners arrived each week. Significant numbers of prisoners said they arrived at the jail feeling depressed or suicidal. Self-harm was very high.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Our overriding concern was around the lack of safety. Since the last inspection in October 2016, there had been seven self-inflicted deaths, and it was disappointing to see that the response to recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (which investigates deaths) had not been addressed with sufficient vigour or urgency.

“There had also been a further five deaths in the space of eight months where it was suspected that illicit drugs might have played a role.” Drugs were readily available in the jail and nearly two-thirds of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs; 30% said they had acquired a drug habit since coming into the prison. “These were very high figures”, Mr Clarke said, though the prison had developed a strategy to address the drugs problem.

The leadership, Mr Clarke added, was “immensely frustrated by the fact that they had no modern technology available to them to help them in their efforts to stem the flow of drugs into the prison. We were told that they had been promised some modern scanning equipment but that it had been diverted to another prison.” The scale of the drugs problem and related violence meant that technological support was urgently needed.

Since the last inspection at Durham in 2016, violence had doubled and the use of force by staff had increased threefold, though some of the increase in force may have been due to new staff who were not yet confident in using de-escalation techniques. Governance of the use of force had improved.

Mr Clarke added: “There were some very early signs that the level of violence was beginning to decline, but it was too early to be demonstrable as a sustainable trend.”

Alongside these concerns, inspectors noted “many positive things happening at the prison.” These included the introduction of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks on the wings for prisoners to make applications, which had “undoubtedly been beneficial”. The disruption caused by prisoners needing to be taken to court had been reduced by the extensive use of video links.

A new and more predictable daily regime had recently been introduced, increasing access for men to amenities such as showers and laundry on the wings. “For a prison of this type, the time out of cell enjoyed by prisoners was reasonable and it was quite apparent that, despite its age, the prison was basically clean and decent,” Mr Clarke said. It was also good that the leadership saw new staff as an opportunity to make improvements, not an inexperienced liability.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was no doubt that there was an extent to which HMP Durham was still going through the process of defining, refining and responding to its role as a reception prison. The very large throughput of prisoners gave rise to the risk that taking them through the necessary processes could predominate over identifying individual needs and ensuring favourable outcomes. However, the prison was aware of this risk. The most pressing needs are to get to grips with the violence of all kinds, make the prison safer and reduce the flow of drugs. Only then will the benefits flow from the many creditable initiatives that are being implemented.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said:

“Apart from security, safety must be the primary function of any prison but the number of deaths at Durham, and particularly the failure to implement the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman designed to reduce deaths in custody, is deeply worrying.

“Only yesterday I wrote an open Letter about this issue to the Ombudsman, and this report reinforces the point that prisons must have the resources to implement PPO recommendations otherwise what is the use of them in the first place?”

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We are determined to install full airport-style security with the right dogs, technology, scanners and search teams to detect drugs.

“We will install the technology in Durham and we will be rolling it out across our local prisons. Tackling drugs is vital for reducing violence.”

HMP Featherstone – Staff commended for achieving significant improvements in two years

HMP Featherstone, a training and resettlement prison near Wolverhampton, was found by inspectors to have improved significantly since a poor inspection two years earlier.

Senior staff had supported new colleagues to become more confident in dealing with up to 637 male prisoners, many serving long sentences, and inspectors found a calm atmosphere at the jail during the inspection in October 2018.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “At this inspection we were pleased to find evidence of significant improvement. Across all four (healthy prison) tests we found measurable improvements, with outcomes in respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation now all sufficiently good. The prison was still not safe enough but here, too, meaningful improvements were evidenced.”Mr Clarke added that staff-prisoner relationships reflected this broad improvement and were now good. “A largely inexperienced staff group were well supported by supervisors and managers and most prisoners indicated that they felt respected. Residential units were calm and ordered and staff demonstrated the confidence to challenge poor behaviour.”

Though much of the site needed refurbishment, living conditions were better than at the inspection in 2016. Cells were cleaner and properly equipped and there was good access to kit and amenities. “The promotion of equality and diversity was better than we usually see.”

Featherstone’s recent improvement was underpinned by a much more purposeful daily regime. Time unlocked for prisoners was good and daily routines were predictable. The range of education, training and work had increased, with Ofsted inspectors assessing this aspect as good, though the prison needed to improve men’s skills in English and maths.

About a quarter of prisoners told researchers they still felt unsafe and violence remained high, though it was falling, in recent times quite sharply. A range of initiatives had been put in place to confront violence and its causes and, Mr Clarke said, “there were some encouraging indications that this work was having an impact.”

“Linked to violence was the ready availability of illicit drugs, certainly one of the key challenges the prison still faced. The response of the prison was impressive with a whole series of active, intelligence-led measures in place to try to combat the problem. There was some early evidence that, like the initiatives to tackle violence, these measures were beginning to have an impact.” This work needed to be sustained.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The key message of this inspection was one of improvement. The prison had come a considerable distance in a relatively brief period of time. Staff were supported to do their job and, despite many having been recruited quite recently, they knew the prisoners well and afforded them meaningful care and support. Energy and initiative were evidenced throughout the prison, being reflected in tangible benefits for those detained and the improved assessments. The governor, managers and the whole staff group should be congratulated for what they were achieving.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“The Governor and staff at Featherstone have worked hard to achieve a consistent and purposeful regime and the improvement since the last inspection is commendable. There is a comprehensive plan in place to further improve safety across the prison by tackling drug use and ensuring every prisoner has a dedicated officer to support them through their sentence”.

Read The Report Here

HMP Channings Wood: Stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

HMP Channings Wood, a training and resettlement prison near Newton Abbott in Devon, was found by inspectors to present “a very mixed picture”, with stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

Overall, the prison had not changed since the last inspection, in 2016. All four ‘healthy prison tests’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – were assessed again as being not sufficiently good, the second lowest assessment.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison environment reflected stark contrasts. “Much of the accommodation was of a good standard and prisoners appreciated their access to the pleasant surrounding grounds. On three units, however, in our view, failures of leadership had led to some very poor standards with prisoners living in often bleak and dirty cells.”

There had been efforts to improve safety at the prison, which held up to 724 men, but these were often uncoordinated, which undermined their effectiveness. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners had felt unsafe in the prison at some point, with a third still feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection.

Violence was rising but inspectors were concerned about the prison’s efforts to tackle it. The report noted: “Levels of violence had increased and were high. Although reported data were comparable to other category C prisons, we also found evidence of significant under-reporting that managers were aware of but had not yet addressed.”

“We were not assured,” Mr Clarke added, “that that the well-being of vulnerable prisoners was always sufficiently safeguarded and the prison lacked a coordinated approach to the reduction of violence linked to the problem of drugs.”

Over three-quarters of prisoners thought illicit drugs were easy to access.  “Inadequate supervision of prisoners, for example, meant there were repeated opportunities for drug misuse and associated violence.” Since the last inspection two prisoners had taken their own lives and the number of self-harm incidents had doubled.

Work to promote equality had deteriorated since 2016, though, more positively, most prisoners felt respected by staff and indicated that they knew who to turn to for help. Here, again, however, inspectors observed “variability and polarisation.”

“We saw much positive work being undertaken by staff of all disciplines working appropriately to set and maintain standards. On the poorer wings, in contrast, we found staff congregating in offices, failing to set standards or maintain supportive living conditions and failing to challenge delinquent behaviour on the part of prisoners.” Inspectors noted that the significant number of newer, less experienced officers needed greater support.

However, more positively, prisoners had reasonable access to time out of cell. The prison had sufficient full-time activity places for most men but the management of attendance and punctuality was poor and quality of teaching, learning and assessment required improvement. Public protection measures, as well as release and resettlement planning, were weak and inconsistent.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Inconsistency of outcomes was a recurrent theme of our findings at this inspection. This was best exemplified in varying standards being accepted across the different accommodation wings, but also in the way initiatives to bring about improvement were often implemented in a partial or uncoordinated way. Managers were enthusiastic and open about making progress, but optimism and energy needed to be harnessed in a way that ensured leaders at all levels were visible, demanding consistent standards, and ensuring improvement was embedded and sustainable.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“We recognise the need to achieve greater consistency in order to improve standards across the prison, which is the Governor’s priority. But I am pleased that the Inspectorate acknowledge a range of positive work being undertaken by staff at all levels at Channings Wood. An additional 22

officers have now been recruited to provide key workers for every prisoner, and we have increased resources to improve safety and accommodation conditions.”

Read the Report: https://www.prisons.org.uk/ChanningsWood022019.pdf

Children in Custody – Welcome signs of improvement but many still feel unsafe

Children in Custody 2017–18: An analysis of 12–18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions

Signs of improvement in youth custody establishments have yet to translate into greater feelings of safety for those detained, according to new analysis of the perceptions of children in custody.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the study of children held in 2017-18 in England and Wales, warned against complacency because of improvements seen in some recent inspections of secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs).

Despite indications of improved behaviour, significant numbers of children in both types of establishment still said they had felt unsafe at some time. The figures were 34% for STCs and 40% in YOIs.

In February 2017, Mr Clarke warned the Minister for Victims, Youth and Family Justice that HM Inspectorate of Prisons could not then classify any STC or YOI as safe enough to hold children, because of high levels of violence.

This year (2017-18), Mr Clarke said, “there have been some encouraging signs of improvement in safety at some establishments, but history tells us that all too often early signs of improvement have not been sustained.

“A key factor in securing a safe environment for children in custody is finding positive ways to encourage good behaviour. During the year we published a thematic report on this subject, the key finding of which was that all effective behaviour management was underpinned by positive relationships between staff and children. Building those positive relationships is a key challenge for both STCs and YOIs, given the shortages of staff, their high turnover rates and, in too many establishments, very poor time out of cell for the children.”

Mr Clarke added: “It is notable that there has been no statistically significant shift in the perceptions of children about their treatment and conditions – either in STCs or YOIs. Too many children… (34% in STCs and 40% in YOIs) report having felt unsafe since coming into custody.”

The independent HMIP report was commissioned by the Youth Justice Board (YJB). Mr Clarke said the YJB and the recently created Youth Custody Service (YCS) within the prison service should fully understand a notable finding in the perceptions analysis. This is that significantly more (87%) children in STCs reported being treated respectfully by staff than the 64% of boys who did so in YOIs.

A total of 686 children, from a population in custody of just under 840, answered questions in a survey.

Key findings included:

  • 42% of children in STCs identified as being from a black or other minority ethnic background;
  • Over half of children (56%) in STCs reported that they had been physically restrained in the centre;
  • Nearly a third of children in STCs (30%) reported being victimised by other children by being shouted at through windows;
  • Over half (51%) of boys in YOIs identified as being from a black or minority ethnic background, the highest rate recorded in surveys of YOIs:
  • Half of children (50%) in YOIs reported that they had been physically restrained.

Mr Clarke said:

“I trust that the details of this report will prove useful to those whose responsibility it is to provide safe, respectful and purposeful custody for children. As we all know, the perceptions of children in custody, will, for them, be the reality of what is happening. That is why we should not allow the recent improvement in inspection findings to give rise to complacency.”

Read The Report

HMP/YOI SWINFEN HALL – Positive work undermined by continuing poor regime

HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall in Staffordshire, holding 530 males aged between 18 and 28, was found by inspectors to have improved in some respects, and to have committed and hard-working staff. However, all areas of prison life were adversely affected by a poor regime.

Many prisoners were locked up for 22 hours a day, which meant they did not attend training and education or get access to telephones or showers, and often had to eat in their cells, on or near cell toilets.

Swinfen Hall was last inspected in 2016. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “While there had been noticeable improvements in some areas, none of them had been sufficient to raise any of our healthy prison assessments.

“There had been improvements in the provision of education and skills, and some of the residential accommodation had benefitted from refurbishment…But the simple fact was that, despite the improvements, too many fundamental issues still needed to be resolved.

“First and foremost among these was the poor regime, which had a negative impact on so much else in the prison. We found that it was disrupted about 60% of the time, limiting access to work and education. Thirty-nine per cent of prisoners told us they were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day during the week, a figure that rose to 65% at weekends. This meant that only 27% had daily access to telephones, limiting their ability to maintain family contact or to complete domestic tasks such as cleaning their cells.

“Only a quarter of prisoners were able to have a daily shower, which compared very poorly with the 89% who were able to do so in other similar prisons…The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners was also clearly adversely affected by the poor regime and the long periods of lock up.

Mr Clarke added: “It was our clear view that if the regime could be improved, Swinfen Hall could become a quite different prison.”

Inspectors noted that health care provision was generally good, and prisoners held positive views about it. The prison also had a robust approach to dealing with violence, and the fairly new violence reduction strategy had much to commend it, although there needed to be a sharper focus on violence reduction. However, Mr Clarke said, “we were particularly concerned by the very high levels of self-harm, and the fact that this was disproportionately high among younger prisoners…A significant amount of this total was attributable to a small number of prisoners, but this was nevertheless extremely worrying.

“The poor regime undoubtedly affected many areas of prison life, but clearly had a particularly acute impact on younger prisoners and those who were vulnerable or prone to committing acts of self-harm.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was much good work being carried out at Swinfen Hall by a committed and hard-working staff group, but the prison will not fulfil its potential to provide a consistently purposeful and caring environment for the young prisoners held there unless and until the poor regime is improved.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised the improvements in living conditions and education and skills training which are crucial to successful rehabilitation. However, we realise that more needs to be done to tackle self-harm in the prison, so we have hired additional psychology and mental health resources to support vulnerable prisoners. We are also improving the daily regime by increasing purposeful activity.”

Read the Report here

HMP LOWDHAM GRANGE – A Violent Training Prison with ‘Very Poor’ Work Opportunities

HMP Lowdham Grange, a training prison in Nottinghamshire operated by Serco and holding many men serving very long sentences, had become more violent since it was last inspected three years ago and there had been a “quite marked deterioration in the provision of education, skills and work.”

This area of ‘purposeful activity’ was assessed as poor, the lowest assessment.

The report noted that “the number of violent incidents was high and some were serious.” Much of the violence related to the trade in illicit drugs in the prison.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had an encouraging new violence reduction strategy with a prisoners’ ‘violence hotline’, which was commended as good practice. However, Mr Clarke added: “While much of what we saw was good and seemed to us a good foundation for progress, it was too early to say if the approach was working. Levels of violence remained high.

“In keeping with the amount of violence evident, use of force had doubled and the use of segregation was also high. Oversight and accountability for the use of force and segregation required significant improvement.” However, the use of technology to scan mail as a potential source of drugs was “a useful initiative” and the availability of drugs had reduced in recent months.

The amount of self-harm in the prison had increased significantly and, since 2015, two prisoners had taken their own lives.

Most prisoners had “quite good” time out of cell but outcomes in education, skills and work had deteriorated. Mr Clarke said: “The range of provision was diminished and quality assurance arrangements were lacking. Teaching, learning and assessment outcomes were poor and too few completed their courses.”

On a more positive note, the prison environment was reasonable, although internal areas could have been cleaner. Access to services was generally very good and included a well-used internal advice line. Outcomes for minority groups were reasonable but some negative perceptions among these groups required further exploration. Health services were good but delays in access to some important elements of health care were excessive. Prisoners could wait up to 64 days for a routine GP appointment. Mr Clarke added that, in view of the risk posed by many of the 920 men held at Lowdham Grange, “it was reassuring that work to support risk reduction and rehabilitation was reasonably good.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Our findings at Lowdham Grange were adequate if inconsistent. There had been some progress but there was very much the sense that the prison was doing just enough. For example, the prison’s level of attention to our 2015 recommendations was very disappointing and a missed opportunity. We did see some innovative practice, and recent improvements needed to be embedded. There was much more to do, however, to enhance the prison’s very poor training offer.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“Lowdham Grange holds a challenging long-term prisoner population. Outcomes from this inspection confirm that they manage risk, public protection and rehabilitation requirements reasonably well but need to do more on safety and in providing quality education and training for prisoners. Serco are committed to improving performance at the prison and we will closely monitor their response to the recommendations in this report.”

On Purposeful Activity the Chief Inspector found:

Time out of cell and access to association and exercise were good for most prisoners. On average, 27% of prisoners were locked up during the working day. The library service was adequate but did not promote literacy effectively. Recreational gym provision was reasonably good but indoor facilities and equipment were very poor and the floor in the weights room was damaged and hazardous. Monitoring of library and gym use was weak and it was difficult to determine who used them and whether access was equitable.

Leaders and managers had not achieved any of our previous recommendations.

Most strengths highlighted at the previous inspection had deteriorated into weaknesses.

Leaders and managers did not have sufficient oversight of the quality of education, skills and work, including the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Quality assurance and improvement processes were not effective. The self-assessment report was not evaluative enough and demonstrated that leaders did not have an accurate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the provision. The number and range of education courses had reduced since the last inspection. NVQ qualifications in industries had been withdrawn, and there was now no externally recognised accreditation in the workplace. The curriculum did not reflect the needs of the population accurately. Staff shortages and regular cross  deployment of education staff led to cancelled classes. Staff performance management and development were minimal and did not address identified weaknesses. The number of purposeful activity places did not meet the needs of the whole population. Allocation to education activities was arbitrary. Prisoners were allocated to education courses while applying for work opportunities. The pay rates afforded a significant disincentive to prisoners to engage with education and vocational training. Prisoners sometimes did not arrive on time to their lessons because of a staged movement to activities.

Since the previous inspection, the quality of teaching, learning and assessment had declined significantly. Trainers and teachers did not have high enough expectations of what prisoners could achieve and did not make enough use of prisoners’ starting points to plan their individual learning and training. Induction into education was not sufficiently detailed or  robust. Prisoners’ individual learning plans were weak. Targets were often generic and did not help prisoners to achieve qualifications or develop new skills. Trainers did not routinely develop prisoners’ English and mathematics in vocational training and prison work. Prisoners with additional learning support needs were not supported effectively enough. Trainers and teachers did not routinely feed back clearly to prisoners on how they could improve their knowledge, skills and understanding. There was no virtual campus12. Teaching, learning and assessment in the sports academy were good and prisoners made reasonable progress.

Inside Media13 was well resourced and staffed by very experienced professionals who developed prisoners’ skills successfully. Trainers and teachers built good working relationships with prisoners.

In employability and information and communication technology lessons, prisoners developed successfully the skills and behaviour needed for future employment, such as effective communication and word processing skills, and the importance of good personal presentation and hygiene.

Trainers did not record prisoners’ progress, learning and skills development in workshops. Prisoners were often motivated by financial reward rather than personal and academic development. Prisoners in industries did not develop new skills that were likely to benefit them in the future. The number of prisoners attending education lessons was not consistently high. Attendance was good in vocational training and industries. Prisoners who attended education and training improved their confidence. Prisoners behaved well and showed respect for each other and for staff. Some prisoners in a minority of education and vocational training classes were proud of what they had achieved. The standard of their work was high. In some sessions, teachers developed prisoners’ skills for employment effectively.

Too many prisoners who started education programmes did not complete them. In 2017, only 65% of prisoners who started a course achieved it. Data recording, monitoring and management, particularly of progress, skills development and achievement, were weak.

Leaders did not monitor achievement gaps between different groups of prisoners. Most prisoners could not make informed decisions about the next steps in their education, employment or training because of a lack of information about the curriculum. Progression through levels in the same subject was poor. Staffing issues in some subject areas affected prisoners’ progress, achievement and learning experiences.

Read the report here

Additional: Photo Booth installed.

A jail has installed a photo booth so inmates can take pictures with family members.

Prisoners at privately-run HMP Lowdham Grange can use the facility to capture group shots with relatives during visits.

The move was praised in an inspection report on the Nottinghamshire prison.

It said: “There was a photo booth for prisoners and their families to take a group photograph, which was another good innovation.”

The prison’s operator Serco said the photo booth was introduced in March last year as part of efforts to help families and children have a more positive experience of visiting their fathers.

Used more than 2,200 times, it has been “extremely popular”, the firm added.

Following the trial at Lowdham Grange, Serco expects to introduce photo booths at its other prisons.

Ministers have highlighted the importance of enabling prisoners to keep up relationships with loved ones when behind bars.

Last month, the Government announced plans that will allow thousands more inmates in England and Wales to make phone calls from their cells.

The report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons also disclosed that Lowdham Grange introduced a “violence hotline” in an effort to improve safety.

Inmates can use the service to report concerns about violent or anti-social behaviour.

HMIP described the measure as an example of “good practice”.

It said: “Prisoners could call to report concerns about violence and the safer custody team responded quickly.

“The team also worked with health care to offer support to prisoners who had been using illicit substances.”

The inspection, which took place in August, found the number of violent incidents was high for a category B training prison, with 64 assaults on staff and 83 on prisoners in the last six months.

There had been 30 serious incidents involving weapons, some of which had resulted in puncture wounds and hospitalisation.

Most violence related to the trade of illicit drugs, the inspectorate said.

HMIP noted that the use of technology to scan mail for drugs was a “very useful” initiative but it said the practice of destroying all correspondence that indicated positive, including photographs and stamps, was “excessive”.

opened in 1998, Lowdham Grange holds up to 920 adult men.

Mark Hanson, Serco contract director at Lowdham Grange, said: “We are pleased that this report highlights a number of areas of progress, good practice and innovation in the prison, particularly our new violence reduction programme.

“However, we know we have much more to do to address all the recommendations in the report and embed the improvements that we been making in recent months and we are working on these as a matter of urgency.”

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons renews call for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Inmates at one of Britain’s largest jails walked around “like zombies” while high on drugs in scenes likened to a war zone, the Prisons Inspectorate reveals.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons also makes renewed calls for an independent inquiry as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months.

Prisoners at crisis-hit HMP Birmingham flouted rules without challenge from staff, many of whom were “anxious and fearful” as they went about their duties, HM Inspectorate of Prisons found.

Its report said: “We witnessed many prisoners under the influence of drugs, and some openly using and trafficking drugs around the site.

“Shockingly, some staff were ambivalent and accepting of such behaviour, and failed to respond to this overt drug misuse.”

On one occasion, when inspectors reported smelling drugs an officer was said to have “shrugged and laughed”, while another said they had “only just come on duty”, according to the report.

It quoted one prisoner describing a wing at the jail as “a war zone” with inmates “walking around like zombies, high on Spice”.

Spice, a psychoactive substance, has been identified as a major factor in the safety crisis that has hit much of the prisons estate in England and Wales.

At the time of the inspection in the summer, HMP Birmingham was run by G4S.

In the wake of the visit, Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke triggered the “urgent notification” scheme to demand immediate action from the Government.

As the first details of his findings emerged in August, the Ministry of Justice announced it was taking over the running of the prison for at least six months.

publishing the full inspection report on Tuesday, Mr Clarke renewed his call for an independent assessment into how the prison had been allowed to “slip into crisis”.

He said: “Why was it that those with responsibility for Birmingham either did not see these problems unfolding or seemed incapable of acting decisively when they did?

“Put simply, the treatment of prisoners and the conditions in which they were held at Birmingham were among the worst we have seen in recent years.”

The inspectorate’s report said:

– In the previous 12 months, there had been more assaults at the establishment than at any other local prison

– Frightened and vulnerable prisoners “self-isolated” in locked cells but could not escape bullying and intimidation

– Control in the prison was “tenuous”, with staff often not knowing where prisoners were

– Many cells were dirty, cramped and overcrowded

– The prison was failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release, including hundreds of sex offenders

Prisons minister Rory Stewart said: “We have conducted a full and thorough investigation of the situation at Birmingham to understand the causes, learn lessons and prevent it happening again.

“We will keep a close eye on progress to ensure Birmingham returns to being a place of stability and reform, and we won’t hand the prison back until we consider it is safe to do so.”

A G4S spokeswoman said: “The well-being and safety of prisoners and prison staff is our key priority and we continue to work with the Ministry of Justice to urgently address the issues faced at the prison.

Mr Clarke added:

“The challenges facing this prison are huge;managers and staff need support if they are to turn the establishment around.

“The helpful action plan published by the Secretary of State provides an important framework for progress and is a start, but there also needs to be accountability among those implementing the plan.

“It is crucial for there to be transparent, open conversations about the state of the prison and the progress being made.

“It will undoubtedly take some time for Birmingham to make the improvements needed, and as an Inspectorate we leave the prison with a number of recommendations.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

‘The Chief Inspector of Prisons renews calls for an independent inquiry as to how G4S allowed HMP Birmingham, one of Britain’s biggest jails, to descend into appalling, chaotic conditions in just 18 months…’?

Hold on, let’s read that again.

“The Chief Inspector renews calls for an ‘independent inquiry'”?

That’s like the surgeon in theatre ordering that the patient on his operating table be taken to hospital.

They’re already in a hospital – and the Prisons Inspectorate is already ‘independent’.

Who then is better placed than the Prisons Inspectorate, with statutory independence and all expertise and experience that they have on tap to find out exactly what happened at Birmingham, if not the Prisons Inspectorate itself?

It sounds awfully like they’ve ‘fessed up’ to not being up to the job.

Or could it be they’ve recognised that any truly independent inquiry into Birmingham is inevitably going to find that the Prisons Inspectorate and Independent Monitoring have their own contributing failures to answer for?

The unpalatable truth for the Prisons Inspectorate is this:

Our prisons are in the mess they are largely because the Prisons Inspectorate have been quietly complicit in a system that has allowed governments over the last ten years to routinely ignore Prison Inspectorate recommendations with impunity.

I wrote an investigative article about this a year ago in The Independent, an article that (welcome by-product of another process or not I don’t know) saw the Urgent Notification procedure being signed four months later – but the fact is the Prisons Inspectorate doesn’t have clean hands here.

Yes the Urgent Notification procedure is a huge improvement, I welcome it, but I’ve never understood why we have to wait until a jail is in complete security, safety and control meltdown, warranting an Urgent Notification, before corrective action is taken?

Every recommendation of the Prisons Inspectorate should be seen as an ‘urgent notification’ – because unless it is, inevitably one day that is precisely what it is destined to become.

Read the Report here.

HMP Magharberry: Violence and disorder at high security prison reduced

A prison once branded dangerous and Dickensian has made immensely encouraging progress, a report said.

Maghaberry high-security jail in Co Antrim holds life prisoners convicted of the most serious offences including murder and paramilitaries.

Many struggle with substance abuse, self-harm, lack of education and poor mental health and some are extremely vulnerable.

In April watchdogs revisited the institution three years after finding it “unsafe, unstable and disrespectful”, and said excellent leadership efforts to stabilise it had borne fruit.

The inspectors said: “We rarely see a prison make the sort of progress evident at Maghaberry and it is to the credit of all those involved that many of the outcomes for the men held at the prison are now among the best we have seen in this type of prison in recent years.”

Levels of violence and disorder had reduced significantly and the prison was much more stable and calm, while relations between staff and prisoners had been “transformed”.

Areas where inmates congregate were once no-go zones for staff but are now regularly patrolled.

Reservations remain over the handling of vulnerable prisoners, the inspectors said.

Five inmates have killed themselves since the last inspection and a “very high” 500 reports of prisoners at risk had been opened recently.

Observation cells for inmates vulnerable to self-harm had been used 200 times and strip clothing, designed to be resistant to suicide bids, in 80% of cases, which inspectors noted can add to distress.

The unannounced inspection was conducted in April this year by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and the Education Training Inspectorate.

It said the regime inside was much better than observed previously and was being delivered reliably.

It also said learning, skills and the provision of work had improved but much more still needed to be done.

The inspectors said rehabilitation and release planning work was amongst the best they had seen.

Prisoners received good support on arrival, a special area is set aside for the first few days with arrangements for mentoring by other prisoners and enhanced contact with family and friends, and the prison seemed safer, with a relatively low level of violence but many men still said they felt unsafe, the report said.

Robust and effective action had been taken to reduce the supply of illegal drugs.

Some men spent long periods in a special care and supervision unit but more was being done to integrate them, inspectors said.

Levels of self-harm had fallen but management arrangements were too risk- averse, which can mean over-reliance on intrusive monitoring which can itself be stressful, and the underlying issues were not addressed adequately, the review found.

The response to recommendations following deaths in custody was “insufficient”, the report said.

At the time of inspection there had been five self-inflicted deaths since a previous inspection in 2016.

Living conditions were reasonable, although some “houses” offered poor cell accommodation, the inspectors said. A new block is being opened soon.

A more conducive environment for training and learning was created but inspectors said not enough activity places existed and the curriculum was too narrow.

Attendance records needed improvement. Long waiting lists were noted for more popular courses. Outcomes were not sufficiently good.

Release from prison planning and outcomes for prisoners were good.

The report made 14 recommendations surrounding the negative perceptions held by many prisoners, the need for timely responses to health complaints and poorer outcomes seen by Catholic inmates.

It said the practice of supplying medicines which had been prescribed for direct administration by prison staff should be reviewed to reduce the opportunity for bullying by other prisoners.

Prison Service director general Ronnie Armour said: “This latest report demonstrates the huge progress which has been made at Maghaberry Prison.

“From a facility which was described in 2015 as ‘unsafe, unstable and disrespectful’, criminal justice inspectors are now reporting ‘progress rarely seen’ with ‘outcomes for prisoners now among the best’.”

HMP Peterborough (Male): Many strengths but serious problems with drugs and violence

Peterborough men’s prison has much good practice to share with the wider service but was found by inspectors to have become less safe over the last three years because of the ravages of drugs and violence.

The jail, holding 800 prisoners and run by Sodexo, is on the same site as a female prison and the two establishments share a management team. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said there was much to commend in the men’s jail when inspectors visited in July 2018.

“However, the simple fact was that while Peterborough was a safe prison in 2015 (the previous inspection), our judgement on this occasion was that safety had declined to such an extent that we had no choice other than to reduce our assessment in this area by two levels, to ‘not sufficiently good’.” That is the second lowest assessment in HMI Prisons’ “healthy prison tests.”

“In common with many other prisons, Peterborough has suffered the ravages of the epidemic of drugs – especially new psychoactive substances (NPS) – that have flowed into them in recent years and the debt, bullying and violence they cause,” Mr Clarke said.

Over 50% of prisoners told inspectors it was easy to get hold of illicit drugs, and more than one in five had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail. “As a result, levels of violence had doubled since the last inspection. Unsurprisingly, 55% of prisoners had felt unsafe since coming into the prison and 20% felt unsafe at the time of the inspection.”

Inspectors noted, however, a determined attempt by the jail to get to grips with the drugs and violence. Encouragingly, in the three months leading up to the inspection, there had been a reduction in levels of violence.

Aside from the violence, and the need to strengthen the governance and clinical oversight of health care, most of the functions that a prison must perform were being delivered well. Dedicated staff, many new and inexperienced, worked hard in very difficult circumstances.

It was refreshing, Mr Clarke said, to see a local prison where time out of cell was good for most prisoners and where there were activity places for 80% of the population. In rehabilitation and release planning, the prison was judged to be ‘good’, the highest assessment.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“HMP Peterborough still had much work to do to reduce the violence that had flowed from the influx of drugs into the establishment. Nevertheless, at the time of this inspection the signs were promising that further progress could be made. It is essential that the prison is restored to being a safe place, so that all the good work that was being delivered in so many areas is not put in jeopardy.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“HMP Peterborough continues to provide a positive regime with good levels of purposeful activity and an effective resettlement scheme to reduce reoffending. As with other prisons across the estate, Peterborough has faced a rise in the illicit supply of drugs and a population more prone to violence – tackling this is a priority and progress is being made. The prison’s Director will use the report’s recommendations to support further improvement.”

A copy of the full report, published on 27 November 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Prisons: Yet to turn the corner on safety says Chief Inspector

The jail safety crisis is yet to show signs of reversing, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned.

Peter Clarke cited his annual report for 2017/18, which was published in July, saying it made for “pretty gloomy reading”.

He told MPs: “I’m afraid I haven’t seen anything since then to give me optimism that any significant corner has been turned.

“The violence figures are going in the wrong direction, we still see far too many drugs destabilising prisons.”

The latest official statistics on safety behind bars showed assaults, including attacks on officers, and self-harm incidents at record levels.

Mr Clarke added that his inspectorate had not seen any “significant improvements” in living conditions.

Giving evidence to the Commons Justice Committee this morning (Wednesday 21st November), the chief inspector suggested there was a “direct correlation” between worsening safety levels and falls in prison officer numbers.

He said: “In the five years leading up to 2013, levels of violence were steady or even slightly declining in some areas.

“Since 2013, there’s been an inexorable rise. The correlation is that the second half of that decade coincides with the reduction in staff numbers within the estate.

“I’m not in a position to show a causative link but you can show a very clear correlation.”

Two years ago, ministers launched an effort to boost frontline prison officer ranks.

As of September, the number of staff in key operational roles was at its highest since July 2012, but it remains more than 2,000 below the level in 2010.

Mr Clarke said the Government’s recruitment drive “will help” and has yielded some positive changes in prisons.

He added: “Whether they will achieve what needs to be achieved is another matter.”