HMP BRISTOL – Chief Inspector Issues Urgent Notification

The country’s most senior prison inspector has demanded the Justice Secretary take action over the squalid and dangerous conditions at HMP Bristol – issuing his fifth ever Urgent Notification.

Peter Clarke invoked a rarely-used protocol forcing David Gauke to respond publicly after inspectors found high levels of violence, filthy cells and poor training and education.

Click to Download Urgent Notification in pdf

Mr Clarke warned the Justice Secretary that the category B men’s prison had not improved at all despite being placed in special measures after a worrying inspection in 2017.

In the letter, Mr Clarke said inspectors had found rates of self-harm had increased since 2017 and remained higher than most local prisons.

Despite two suicides since the last inspection, recommendations for improvements had not been implemented and inspectors saw instances of “very poor” care of at-risk prisoners.

Inspectors also found the prison to be dirty, with many of the 600-plus inmates living in overcrowded cells.

Recorded levels of violence, a lot of it serious, were found to have increased since the 2017 inspection, and was much higher than average for local prisons.

Nearly two thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some point while held in HMP Bristol, and over a third said the currently felt unsafe.

A hotline for family and friends of prisoners in crisis to report their concerns had not been checked for over two weeks before the inspections, Mr Clarke said.

It was found the prison had enough activity places for all prisoners to take part in education, training or work for at least part of the day, but only half of prisoners had been allocated an activity.

Of these, on average only half attended their activity.

Under the terms of the urgent notification protocol, within a month the justice secretary must come up with a plan to improve the prison.

In the letter, Mr Clarke said: “The chronic and seemingly intractable failings at Bristol have now been evident for the best part of a decade.”

He added the prison had “demonstrably been in a state of drift and decline for many years” and that additional investment had not led to any visible improvement in conditions.

Mr Clarke said: “Some of the efforts to improve have, in reality, been a case of too little, too late.

“Some we saw had only just been implemented, and some were introduced during the inspection itself.

“On the basis of this latest inspection, I can have no confidence that HMP Bristol will achieve coherent, meaningful or sustained improvement in the future.”

The urgent notification protocol was added to the existing protocol between the prisons’ inspectorate and the Ministry of Justice in November 2017, signed by then-justice secretary David Lidington.

Bristol is the fifth prison to trigger the protocol since it came into force, Mr Clarke has also demanded urgent action over HMPs Nottingham, Birmingham, Bedford and Exeter.

The unannounced inspection took place between May 20 and June 7 of this year.

Prisons Minister Robert Buckland said: “We know Bristol faces serious challenges and we have been providing additional support.

“That has resulted in more prison officers and reductions in drug use, but some of the chief inspector’s findings make very difficult reading and it is clear that much more work is needed.

“We have immediately addressed the issues around prisoner phone support lines to make sure those problems can never happen again, and will publish an action plan within 28 days to reduce violence and self-harm and help turn the prison around.”

CHIEF INSPECTOR’S KEY FINDINGS

• Bristol is a frontline local prison, receiving prisoners from the courts, many with vulnerabilities and often with no previous experience of prison. In light of this, we were disappointed to see first night arrangements had only improved marginally and that many of these improvements were only introduced during the course of the inspection.

• In our survey, nearly two-thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay at the prison, with over a third feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection itself. Recorded violence, much of it serious, had increased since our last inspection and was much higher than the average for local prisons. We saw that there was a new violence reduction strategy, some good security initiatives and some very important work to combat illegal drugs, but some of this was poorly coordinated, not measured for effectiveness and not applied with sufficient rigour to give us the assurance it will be impactful or sustained. Despite the high levels of violence, there were no prisoners being managed under CSIP (the agreed casework approach to managing perpetrators and victims of violence), which meant that perpetrators were not being monitored and challenged and victims were not being supported.

• The use of segregation, the number of adjudications and use of force incidents were all high and, to a large extent, reflected the levels of violence in the prison. Most work to improve processes was very recent and untested. Work to incentivise prisoners was too new to assess its effectiveness, and the poor management of adjudications led to a situation where so many charges were not proceeded with that it risked creating a culture of near impunity for those prisoners who behaved poorly. Of the 1,075 adjudications so far in 2019, only 400 had reached a conclusion.

• The rate of self-harm had increased since the last inspection and remained higher than most other local prisons. There had been two self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection, and significant recommendations made following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigations had not been implemented. An extraordinarily high number of prisoners – one in 10 – were identified as being at risk of suicide and self-harm and were being managed through assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management processes. We believe this was unmanageable. There was no effective strategy to reduce levels of self-harm and this was an indication of risk aversion rather than considered risk management. This was poor practice and potentially an impediment to care for those in crisis.

• We saw examples of very poor care for prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide and self-harm. One prisoner being managed on ACCT became very distressed one evening and smashed up his cell. Despite this, staff did not review his case that evening, nor was the level of observations on him increased. He was left overnight, and all the following day, in his damaged cell.

• Our confidence in the prison’s competence to support those at risk of self-harm was severely undermined when we found that prisoners had been unable to telephone the Samaritans from their in-cell phones since 15 May 2019 because the prison had not kept the number topped up with credit.

• We were extremely concerned to find that a hotline for the family and friends of those in crisis, to call and report their concerns, had not been checked by staff at all for the two weeks before the inspection. When inspectors asked for records, staff retrieved 21 voicemail messages which required action. Three of the prisoners concerned had already been released from Bristol.

• When we last inspected we were concerned about the lack of care, particularly social care for some very vulnerable prisoners with physical disabilities. At this inspection, the social care arrangements were still completely inadequate, leaving several prisoners we observed with unmet care needs. One of these men had been at the prison since October 2018. He was not able to walk unaided. He had a wheelchair, but it did not fit through his cell door. His cell had no adjustments made and he spent most of his day lying in bed, with a urine bottle tucked under his sheets. A fellow prisoner helped him by getting his meals, making sure he had clean bedding and clothing and lifting him in and out of his cell, but this prisoner was neither trained nor supervised. An initial social care referral was made in December 2018. A care assessment was made during our inspection on 5 June.

• Most accommodation remained bleak and grubby with too many overcrowded cells. C and G wings were the poorest environments. There remained a substantial backlog of maintenance work, infestations of cockroaches were common and many cells lacked sufficient basic furniture. A bulk order of new furniture had been placed in January 2019, but had still not arrived.

• There were currently sufficient activity places for all prisoners to engage in education, training or work for at least part of the day, yet only half had been allocated and of these on average only about half attended. Leaders and managers had not prioritised purposeful activity, were largely unaware of the poor attendance rates, and their expectations were too low, despite significant investment in education facilities. Classes were often cancelled. The quality of teaching, learning and assessment was weak: too many prisoners failed to make any progress, complete their course or gain any qualification or tangible outcome. Time out of cell for the many prisoners not allocated to activity was limited to around two hours each day, and during the working day we found just under a third of prisoners locked in their cells.

• Bristol prison has an important role to play in resettling and reintegrating the many prisoners it releases. About 80 prisoners were released from Bristol every month, but a staggering 47% were released homeless or into temporary accommodation, which did little to enhance their chances of rehabilitation.

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

The one thing that stands out about this Urgent Notification is not the shocking conditions, squalor, lack of decency, care of vulnerable prisoners (whose critical care telephone line had not been answered in a fortnight) nor the high levels of violence, all that regrettably is part and parcel of the criteria for an Urgent Notification and I expected all that.

What is most concerning is that all of that took place in a prison that was both fully staffed and which has, for the last two years, been subject to HM Prison and Probation Service ‘Special Measures’ designed to bring failing prisons back up to par with added resources and managerial input.

In the words of the Chief Inspector Peter Clarke, Special Measures “have clearly failed at HM Prison Bristol.”

What’s more the prison clearly had no excuse or explanation for its failings either: 

“Despite repeated requests, the prison failed to provide us with any meaningful objectives, action plans or assessment of the impact of ‘special measures’” wrote the Chief Inspector.

Of the 76 recommendations made by the Prisons Inspectorate in 2017 at HMP Bristol, by the time of this visit a dismal 22 had been achieved – and when it came to safety there was even more incredulity – especially after two years added senior Ministry of Justice ‘special measures’ attention:

“Incredibly, for a prison that has been judged as unsafe in successive inspections, only one of the 11 recommendations made under ‘safety’ in 2017 had been fully achieved…

“In 2017 I had grounds to think that the leadership at Bristol might be able to make some progress, called for them to be allowed to continue at Bristol, and expressed some cautious optimism.

“Two years later, there has been no significant improvement. My understanding is that ‘special measures’ are intended to provide support for the Governor of a struggling prison.

“If that is the intention, they have clearly failed at HMP Bristol.”

The Chief Inspector’s Urgent Notification is a damning assessment of failure in a fully staffed prison, subject to extra resources and the added management support ‘special measures’ are designed to deliver, and which should never have found itself in this position in a month of Sundays.

The Prison Officers Association were quick off the blocks, after news of the Urgent Notification was leaked two days ago to the BBC prior to its publication today; National Chairman Mark Fairhurst said on Twitter:

“HMP Bristol gets an [Urgent Notification] not because of a poor Governor or a lack of committed staff. It’s because of a lack of investment and a reluctance to act at the very top. Start listening to your staff and @POAUnion⁩ and let’s make our prisons safe/ decent.”

The uncomfortable reality for Mark Fairhurst, however, is that there has been investment, and far from a reluctance to act from the top, there has been more than two years’ worth of added attention at Bristol.

All the evidence points to failure by the prison itself to make the most of the opportunity special measures gave to it, and that failure starts and ends at a local level, indeed right at the heart of the prison in Bristol itself.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales – follow him on Twitter @prisonsorguk

Read the Urgent Notification

HMP/YOI Moorland – significant improvements in safety and respect but must address public protection weakness

HMP/YOI Moorland, an adult and young adult men’s resettlement prison near Doncaster, showed “reassuring” improvements since its previous inspection, particularly in reducing violence overall.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that in February 2016 Moorland was uncertain about whether it would be privatised and was suffering very badly from the impact of illicit drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS).

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It was therefore heartening, Mr Clarke said, to see the progress in the past three years. Safety and respect had both gone up from an assessment of ‘not sufficiently good’ to ‘reasonably good’, and purposeful activity, including training and education, remained at sufficiently good. However, its work on rehabilitation and resettlement remained at ‘not sufficiently good.’

The improvements in safety and respect were a “significant achievement, and testament to a huge amount of hard work by all the leaders and staff at Moorland.

“Levels of violence had not only stabilised, but had actually decreased – clearly bucking the national trend over that period.” However, despite this overall reduction, assaults against staff had doubled and were higher than at similar prisons. Use of force by staff had increased since the last inspection, though levels were now similar to other category C prisons. It was also notable, Mr Clarke added, “that the prevalence of NPS seen at the last inspection has decreased.”

Self-harm was very high and it was disappointing that there were insufficient Listeners – prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners. Staff-prisoner relationships had improved considerably since 2016 and the prison’s key worker scheme was having a beneficial impact. In-cell telephones were “beneficial in many ways.” The prison was urged, though, to develop a better understanding of survey data suggesting adverse results for black and minority ethnic and disabled prisoners.

The most serious concern for inspectors was the lack of effective public protection measures. Over half the population, 530 men, were assessed as presenting a high risk and about a third were convicted sex offenders.

Mr Clarke said: “It was unacceptable that high risk prisoners approaching release were not receiving the detailed consideration that their potential risk to the public should have demanded.” Inspectors also noted that “arrangements to conduct and review telephone monitoring were chaotic and unmanageable. Child contact restrictions were poorly managed, and there were no assessments to support decisions.” Mr Clarke added: “Moorland has now been a resettlement prison for a number of years, and this whole area of responsibility, not only to the prisoners but also to the public, needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Overall, however, Mr Clarke said:

“This was a good inspection, and although there were some vital areas where improvement was still needed, it was obvious that the findings of the last inspection had been taken seriously… I would urge the leadership and staff at Moorland not to feel defensive about some of the issues raised in this report, which some might interpret as criticism. It is the duty of HM Inspectorate of Prisons to report on what we see, and if there are shortcomings we will point them out, in the spirit of helping to secure further improvements through recommendations. This was a reassuring inspection, and shows what can be achieved even in difficult and testing times, but it would be unduly complacent not to acknowledge that further improvement is necessary and achievable.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“This is a very promising report, and the decrease in violence and use of drugs is a testament to the huge amount of hard work by staff at HMP Moorland. We take the concerns raised around public protection very seriously and the prison is already implementing new plans for managing offenders’ release. We are also rolling out the key worker scheme – which gives each prisoner a dedicated officer for engagement and support and has led to a reduction in attacks on staff elsewhere – which should help the prison to build on the good progress that the inspection team have highlighted.”

Read the Report

HMP The Mount: improvements in activity and rehabilitation and prison beginning to address violence and drugs

HMP The Mount, a training and resettlement prison in Hertfordshire holding up to 1,000 prisoners, was assessed in April 2019 to be improving from a troubling inspection a year before.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the full inspection in April and May 2018 had shown a “prison that had deteriorated substantially in many areas.” There were high levels of violence, drug use and use of force by staff and inspectors concluded that The Mount was “clearly failing in its fundamental mission to provide constructive activity, training and rehabilitation.”

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However, in an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) in 2019, Mr Clarke said, “we noted that the prison appeared to be on an upward trajectory, albeit from a very low base.

“Managers told us of many improvements expected within the next few months…We were pleased to find that there was some substance to these plans. There was evidence of greater clarity of vision around training and rehabilitation, something that we had urged in 2018.”

Work to improve safety outcomes for prisoners was less advanced than would have been expected, Mr Clarke noted. Violence and use of force had risen, and the governance of use of force and segregation was still weak. Drugs remained a problem. However, there was a comprehensive, though as yet only partially implemented, strategy to address violence. More body-worn cameras were available and they were used more often. In recent months there had been evidence of steadily reducing drug use in the prison.

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Cleanliness had improved substantially, and a programme of redecoration and refurbishment was well under way, supported by a prisoner ‘handyman’ scheme. Staffing had greatly improved, with around 80 new officers, and staff sickness levels were now very low.

Inspectors identified the use of prisoner ‘culture representatives’ – whose experience helped the management understand whether policies designed to create a more respectful environment were having an impact – as good practice.

There was reasonably good progress in purposeful activity. While far too many prisoners were unemployed and locked up during roll checks (around 40%), time out of cell had improved substantially since 2018. A full regime was now available to most men, with some advanced plans to create more activity places.

The most impressive area of progress was in rehabilitation and release planning, Mr Clarke said. There were still insufficient interventions – for example, to address the needs of prisoners with domestic violence histories. “However, the prison now had a much more coherent and joined up approach to offender management and reducing reoffending.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“This was an encouraging review. While a great deal of work was still needed to ensure that momentum was not lost, improvement and progress were evident. The two worst areas identified at the last inspection – purposeful activity, and rehabilitation and release planning – had both seen significant improvements. There was a sense of purpose and management drive at the prison, and the contribution that prisoners themselves could make to positive change was being recognised. It would be a disappointment – and a surprise – if the areas of insufficient progress… were not addressed with vigour before we return to The Mount.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full Independent Review of Progress report, published on 31 May 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons
  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. HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire is a category C training and resettlement prison with capacity for about 1,000 prisoners. Opened in the late 1980s, it is a relatively modern prison holding convicted prisoners, most of whom are serving long sentences for serious offences.
  4. Read the full 2018 inspection report – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/09/HMP-The-Mount-Web-2018.pdf

 

  1. Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) are a new type of prison visit, which began in April 2019. They were developed because Ministers wanted an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented HMI Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning prison inspections. IRPs are not inspections and do not result in new judgements against our healthy prison tests. Rather they judge progress being made against the key recommendations made at the previous inspection. The visits are announced and happen eight to 12 months after the original inspection. They last 2.5 days and involve a comparatively small team. Reports are published within 25 working days of the end of the visit. We conduct 15 to 20 IRPs each year. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons selects sites for IRPs based on previous healthy prison test assessments and a range of other factors. For more on IRPs please see – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/about-hmi-prisons/independent-reviews-of-progress-irps/

 

  1. This IRP visit took place between 23 – 25  April 2018. At this IRP visit, we followed up 13 of the 69 recommendations made at our most recent inspection and made judgements about the degree of progress achieved to date. We judged that there was good progress in five recommendations, reasonable progress in two recommendations and insufficient progress in six. There were no areas of no meaningful progress

 

  1. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at john.steele@justice.gov.uk, if you would like more information.

Please contact the Ministry of Justice Newsdesk – 020 3334 3536 – for a comment on the report.

 

 

HMP Stocken – Improved safety but purposeful activity has declined

Inspectors found a mixed picture of progress in HMP Stocken, a training prison in a rural setting in Rutland, since it was last inspected in 2015.

Safety had improved and conditions for more than 800 men in the prison remained reasonably good. However, the prison had deteriorated in terms of purposeful activity, including training and education, and in rehabilitation and release planning.

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Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said it was clear that the leadership of the prison was fully committed to maintaining and improving performance. “A very obvious sign of success is that the rating we awarded for safety, so often a challenge for prisons in recent times, had risen from not sufficiently good at the last inspection to reasonably good on this occasion.

“This is a very real achievement. Levels of violence had not increased, and were lower than at similar prisons. HMP Stocken had managed to defy the national trend of year-on-year increases in violence.”

Mr Clarke added, however, that HMP Stocken needed to review and develop its drugs strategy, particularly focusing on new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Nevertheless, there had been some good work carried out, and although the mandatory drug testing positive results were high for the previous six months at around 26%, there were some encouraging signs of improvement.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners were generally positive though there had been insufficient attention paid to equalities since the last inspection. Inspectors were concerned by some serious weaknesses in health care.

It was disappointing, both for the Inspectorate and the prison, Mr Clarke said, “to find that performance in the area of purposeful activity had fallen away. At the previous inspection we had awarded our highest grade of ‘good’, but this had now declined to ‘not sufficiently good’.

“Broadly speaking, there were enough activity places and those that attended generally achieved well. However, we found that only 60% of prisoners actually left their wings to attend activities, and a further 16% were wing workers who for much of the time were not gainfully employed. Our assessment was that only around three-quarters of prisoners were engaged in genuinely purposeful activity. For those who did get to their allocated activities, punctuality was often poor and they frequently failed to settle into work promptly.”

Inspectors also had a major concern about the risks to public protection potentially posed by the small number of prisoners, around eight each month, released from Stocken into the community. Stocken is not designated as a resettlement prison, and as such does not receive services from a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). Most prisoners were transferred to a resettlement prison prior to release, but a small number were not. This created potentially serious risks, given the profile of the prisoner population at Stocken, which were compounded by weaknesses in the internal assessment of risk.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Some of (our) judgements were finely balanced, but the main concerns we have identified will, I hope, give a clear steer for where the undoubted energy and commitment of the leadership and staff at Stocken can best be focused.”

HMP Guys Marsh – “tangible progress for the first time in many years”

Guys Marsh, a training and resettlement jail in Dorset assessed as ‘out of control’ five years ago, showed substantial improvement in the most recent inspection.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the Inspectorate had considered the prison, near Shaftesbury, to be high risk for a number of years. “When we inspected in 2014 we found a prison we described as being out of control. Our subsequent inspection in 2016 saw only marginal improvements…

“It is therefore pleasing to report that, following this inspection (in December 2018 and January 2019) we found a prison where improvement was both substantial and significant.”

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Considerable concerns about safety remained, including high levels of violence driven by drugs and debt, and the frequent use of force by staff. Despite this, Guys Marsh was assessed as a safer prison “and our overall impression was of a calmer, more settled institution.”

The prison had been slow to formulate strategies to reduce the violence but more recently had established a firmer grip. Mr Clarke added: “We saw evidence of several useful initiatives to better understand and confront violence as well as improve support for more isolated individuals.” Staff and prisoners sought solutions to the violence in a ‘violence summit.’

Security was applied proportionately at the prison, with attention to combating illicit drug use. However, many initiatives were new and untested and with the mandatory positive drug testing rate at 27%, the evidence suggested a still considerable problem.

“There had been one self-inflicted death since we last inspected and a further four where evidence pointed to a connection to the use of illegal drugs. Recommendations following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) investigations had been implemented but there remained a problem with increased self-harm among prisoners.” However, there was a significant amount of work being done to try to improve the situation and support for those in crisis seemed good.

Inspectors found that staff supervision and visibility were reasonable – with senior managers particularly prominent. Staff-prisoner relationships were mostly good and the key worker scheme seemed to be helping greatly. The fabric of the prison needed renewal, though this work had begun. The prison was cleaner than before and access to facilities and amenities was much improved, though there was still some overcrowding in cramped cells.

Daily routines in the prison were no longer as restricted as at previous inspections and were now far more predictable. Despite this, a quarter of prisoners were still locked in cells during the working day. Ofsted inspectors assessed the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work as ‘requires improvement’. In contrast, the management of rehabilitation was much improved and robust.

Mr Clarke said:

“This inspection of Guys Marsh evidenced tangible progress for the first time in many years. There was still much to correct and improve but managers were visible and there was good leadership, as well as commitment and enthusiasm among those who worked there. The prison was far more settled and there was an underpinning commitment to promoting well-being among all those held.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“We placed the prison in special measures in 2017 and I’m pleased the Chief Inspector has recognised the significant improvements it has made since then. It is a commendable achievement by the prison’s staff and management and while there is clearly more to do, the rollout of the key worker scheme, further refurbishments and a new CCTV system to boost security have led to further progress since the inspection.”

Read the Report Here

Why Failure Must Be Explained

By Mark Leech

Yesterday I was taken to task for not being positive enough when I wrote about HMP Garth where, following (unusually) an announced HMIP inspection, it was revealed the prison had high levels of drugs and violence, where in terms of the four Healthy Prison Tests, safety had crept up from 1/4 to 2/4, respect from 2/4 to 3/4 and both purposeful activity and release planning had stalled at 3/4 since the last inspection two years ago.

It was said that I did not give enough credit where it was due.

Well that is certainly one view and one with some value to it, but on the other side of the coin Garth was also a prison where 56% of all the HMIP recommendations made and accepted by the prison two years previously had not been achieved at all.

Its really important that staff are given credit for progress, but those same staff also need to be able to take reality on the chin too – once we start to view a 56% failure rate on implementation as something to be proud of, something for which to quote one member of staff at Garth they should be given a ‘pat on the back’ for, then there is a real danger in my view that we are celebrating failure not success.

Mistaking failure for progress just skews reality; implementing 75% or 80% of HMI recommendations deserves praise, but when that drops to less than half, to just 44% that ought to be viewed as a cause for concern not credit – or the danger is that it becomes accepted as normalised and that must never be the case.

Personally I would like to see every Governor who has failed to implement 50% or more of HMI recommendations being required to publicly explain to the Prisons Inspectorate, in a written document that appears in an Annex to the Report, exactly why in two years they have been unable to do better.

There are two sides to every story and one story is only good until another one is told – if nothing else if provides an opportunity to explain the reasons why more progress wasn’t made and I imagine some would be surprised at the reasons given which currently remain hidden from view.

If the Justice Secretary has to explain publicly what has gone wrong and what he will do to put it right when faced with an HMI Urgent Notification, the same principle of accountability should apply to Governing Governors too: they too have their story to tell – and they ought to be allowed to tell it.

The buck stops on their desk and with it credit for success and responsibility for failure too.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales @prisonsorguk

HMP SWALESIDE – Safer and more respectful, but weaker on activity and rehabilitation

Published 8th May 2019

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has said that HMP Swaleside, a training prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent holding many men serving long sentences for violent offences, had ‘become safer and more respectful over two years’ – despite the fact that outcomes for prisoners against the safety prison test ‘were not sufficiently good.”

Swaleside prison, which opened in 1988, is located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Covering mainly London and the South-East, the South-West as well as Wales, the prison first opened with four wings, adding four further wings between 1998 and 2010. In 2010, a psychologically informed planned environment (PIPE) unit was built, along with a pre-PIPE unit for prisoners with personality disorders and very challenging behaviour.

The prison held a complex population, including a psychologically informed planned environment unit, a wing holding prisoners seeking protection, a wing for prisoners convicted of sexual offences and a lifer wing. About a third of prisoners were serving an indeterminate sentence. Eighty-five per cent of prisoners potentially needed multi-agency supervision on release. Seventy-five per cent of the population had been assessed as presenting a high risk of harm. About 60% of prisoners had committed a violent offence. Thirty-five per cent of prison officers had been in the Prison Service for less than 12 months. One hundred and eighty-eight prisoners were employed as wing workers. Two hundred and eight-seven prisoners, about a quarter of the population, were unemployed.

Safety: Early days arrangements were generally good and prisoners were kept safe. The number of violent incidents was high. Innovative work to combat violence was promising but not yet fully productive and required more coordination. Too many prisoners in our survey said that they felt unsafe.

The number of adjudication charges had increased but processes were fair. Levels of use of force were high but oversight was generally good. Prisoners were routinely stripped of their clothing on entering the special cell, which was sometimes used without sufficient justification. The use of segregation was high and some prisoners spent a long time on the unit. Some of the work to help these individuals was impressive.

Security arrangements were generally  proportionate. Levels of self-harm were comparatively low but five prisoners had killed themselves since the previous inspection. there was some good, innovative work to help those with complex needs. The mandatory drug testing positive rate was high, at 25%, but work to reduce the supply of drugs was having some success.  

Outcomes for prisoners against this healthy prison test were not sufficiently good.”

At the last inspection in 2016 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Swaleside were poor against this healthy prison test. We made 12 recommendations in the area of safety At this inspection we found that nine of the recommendations had been achieved, one had been partially achieved and two had not been achieved.

However, progress was assessed as “lop-sided” because the quality of purposeful activity remained insufficiently good since the previous inspection in 2016 and rehabilitation and resettlement work was now assessed as poor, the lowest assessment.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that although the population was comparatively settled “Swaleside is unquestionably a difficult place to run and an institution that presents many risks.”

In 2016, it was found to be “dangerous” and safety was assessed as poor. In December 2018, it still suffered high levels of violence and too many men felt unsafe. But inspectors also found very good work to reduce the supply of drugs, a significant effort to improve safety and some impressive care for those at risk of self-harm. The overall assessment of safety rose from poor to ‘not sufficiently good.’

Relationships between staff and prisoners were generally very good, with over 70% of men saying they thought staff treated them with respect. Many staff were, however, quite inexperienced and some lacked the confidence to challenge poor behaviour.

Most cells were well maintained but the standard of cleanliness “did not correlate with the plethora of supposed prisoner cleaners.” The report noted: “During our night visit, we saw rats in corridors near rubbish bags that had not been disposed of correctly. There was an excessive number of prisoners supposedly employed to clean but the lack of effective staff supervision resulted in little cleaning actually taking place.”

Inspectors found 32% of men locked in their cell during the working day – an improvement on 2016 but still poor. Good standards of work were evident in many aspects of education, skills and work and, for those engaged, the achievement of qualifications was high. This was undermined, however, by poor allocation to activity, under-employment, poor attendance and poor punctuality.

Mr Clarke added: “Core tasks of a prison that manages the type of prisoner held at Swaleside are meaningful sentence management, the reduction of risk of harm and ultimately the protection of the public. In these tasks Swaleside was failing badly.”

Public protection arrangements were weak and offending behaviour interventions were limited, especially for the prison’s population of sexual offenders. More than 160 men convicted of sex offences were moved to Swaleside at the end of 2016 in an attempt to stabilise the jail.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was much to commend at Swaleside. Managers were energetic, caring and innovative, and staff, though inexperienced, were proactive and helpful. Improvements were clearly to be seen, as reflected in our assessments. That said, many improvements were undermined by failings elsewhere…While there had been some incremental improvements in safety, many prisoners were not fully engaged in the regime and some prisoners’ rehabilitation needs were not being met. Managers need to take a step back and think carefully about how they will not only sustain and integrate their achievements but also take a holistic approach to improving outcomes across all four of our healthy prison assessments.”

Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons at HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), said:

“I am pleased that inspectors recognise the improvements that have been made, along with the energy and care that Swaleside staff put into what is acknowledged as their particularly challenging work. Clearly more still needs to be done to address violence and give prisoners more time out of their cells in education and training. Improved safety procedures have been introduced and the prison will also benefit from the new education framework we have implemented across the country to help offenders use their time in custody constructively.”

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

Swaleside has a complex and difficult prison to manage population, the improvement in safety and respect is very welcome  but the stalling of purposeful activity and the fall in release planning shows a prison where far too much focus is set around getting basic control.

Swaleside demonstrates a prison that sees itself as a destination and not a journey, its focus is on getting through each day and with the reality of release for many some years away, the end of sentence planning is not in sharp enough focus and it needs to be – focus on release planning should begin right at the start of the sentence, tentatively in these cases but it must be there if light is to seen at the end of each tunnel,

Purposeful Activity: Too many prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day, and prisoners spent far too long in their cells at weekends. The library and gym facilities were good. The leadership and management of education, work and skills required improvement. Too many prisoners were not allocated to activities. The quality of most teaching and instructing was good but there was too little accredited training in workshops. Not enough prisoners improved their employment skills. Prisoners’ attendance and punctuality were not good enough. Outcomes and achievements for prisoners were reasonably good. Outcomes for prisoners against this healthy prison test were not sufficiently good.

Release Planning: Prisoners now had telephones in their cells, which was appreciated and helped them to maintain contact with families. Visits arrangements were generally good but sessions did not always start on time. The strategic management of reducing reoffending was poor. Too many prisoners did not have an up-to-date assessment of their risks and needs. Offender supervisors had little contact with prisoners, most of which was reactive. Arrangements to protect the public were weak. Categorisation processes were adequate. There were too few places on offending behaviour programmes to meet the needs of the population, and none specifically for prisoners convicted of sexual offences. Not all prisoners were moved to a resettlement prisons before release. Outcomes for prisoners against this healthy prison test were poor.

Read the Report

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HMP GARTH – high levels of violence and a daunting drugs problem found at this announced inspection

Published 9th May 2019
Leaders and staff at HMP Garth, a training prison in Lancashire, were commended for their work to reduce drugs and violence since inspectors found it in 2017 to be one of the most unsafe they had seen.

  • Note: For this Inspection, unusually, the prison had been given prior warning of the Inspection and had the been able to prepare for it in advance.

HMP Garth opened in 1988. A category B men’s establishment, it is part of the newly formed long-term and high-security estate directorate, holding a complex population. The population was predominantly made up of convicted adults serving more than four years and those serving indeterminate sentences. In addition to the mainstream residential accommodation, the prison had a number of specialist units: The Beacon Unit, offering the offender personality disorder pathway service; The Building Hope Unit, a psychologically informed therapeutic environment; a substance misuse therapeutic community and a residential support unit.

Almost all prisoners in HMP Garth were serving prison sentences of longer than 10 years and 89% presented a high risk of harm to others. Sixty-three per cent of prisoners had been convicted of serious violent offences and almost a quarter had been convicted of sexual offences. Just over a third of prisoners were serving an indeterminate sentence. In our survey, 60% of prisoners said it was easy to get hold of illicit drugs, and about one in four said they had developed a drug problem while being at HMP Garth. HMP Garth had a nationally resourced offender personality disorder pathway (OPDP) service operating from The Beacon Unit.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said: “It is pleasing to be able to report that in the space of two years [since January 2017] there had been significant improvements at the prison.

  • High levels of violence but slowing

“Although there was still too much violence, it had not risen in line with the overall trend across the prison estate, and credit is due to the staff at Garth for working hard to understand and contain it. There is absolutely no room for complacency, but there were some early encouraging signs of improvement.

  • Drugs: the scale of this problem was daunting

“As with many other prisons, the ready availability of illicit drugs drove much of the violence, and the scale of the challenge in this respect at Garth was daunting. Sixty per cent of prisoners told us it was easy to obtain drugs, 30% were testing positive for drugs and around a quarter had developed a drug habit since entering the prison.” Drugs and violence reduction strategies must be kept under constant review to maintain the progress.

  • Long-term, high risk population,

Garth held just over 800 prisoners, the vast majority serving sentences of more than 10 years and presenting a high risk of harm. Around two-thirds had been convicted of serious violence and a quarter were convicted of sexual offences.

  • Slight improvements in safety and respect

The poor safety assessment in 2017, in a jail in which drugs and violence then dominated the men’s lives, led inspectors to make it subject to one of only a handful of announced inspections. By late 2018, safety had risen from a poor assessment to not sufficiently good. Respect rose to reasonably good and purposeful activity and rehabilitation and resettlement remained at that level.

Mr Clarke said: “My confidence that the prison can continue to make progress was strengthened by what I saw and heard during my meeting with the senior management team. It was very clear to me that they worked together in a highly collaborative way to address the serious challenges faced by the establishment.

Members of the team, from whatever specialised function, were eager to contribute to what their colleagues were trying to achieve in their particular areas of responsibility. It was heartening to see this approach and to experience the obvious enthusiasm.”

  • Serious concerns about cancelled hospital appointments and Public Protection

Although the assessment of respect had improved, there was serious concern about the high cancellation rate for external hospital appointments. Inspectors were also concerned about some weaknesses in managing the potential risks to the public posed by those few prisoners who were released from Garth.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The leadership of HMP Garth were keen to point out to me that there were early signs of improvement, and it was to their credit that what had been achieved was sufficient to raise our assessments in two of our healthy prison tests. Given the overall context in which establishments such as Garth have been operating over the past few years, this is an achievement that should not be underestimated.

For the future, dealing with the twin scourges of drugs and violence will be the key to making further progress, and I hope that when we next inspect HMP Garth we will be able to report that the momentum we saw on this occasion will have been maintained.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“It is extremely encouraging to see significant progress being made at HMP Garth, and I echo the Chief Inspector’s confidence that the hard work of the prison officers in the establishment will maintain this going forward. The prison continues to tackle drugs and violence head on, ensuring that prisoners can focus on rehabilitation, and I’m delighted to see that their efforts are leading to real improvements.”

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

I’m the first to give governors and staff a pat on the back for progress, encouragement is vital, but so too is reality.

To talk about ‘commendable improvements’ in a prison that still has serious problems with drugs and violence, where self-harm is very high and where less than half of the safety recommendations  made two years ago have still not been implemented, to me is is premature and to value its progress too highly.

Inspectors said:

“At the last inspection in 2017 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Garth were poor against this [Safety] healthy prison test. We made 13 recommendations in the area of safety. At this inspection we found that six of the recommendations had been achieved and seven had not been achieved.”

This was an average report, and I would have expected more progress given that the prison knew of the Inspection months in advance and were able to prepare for it – the fact that they could not do better suggests the prison is fighting a losing losing battle on a number of serious fronts.”

Read the Report 

@prisonsorg.uk

Bronzefield Prison: Increasingly challenging population but an overwhelmingly safe prison

HMP Bronzefield in Surrey, the largest women’s prison in Europe, was found to have outcomes for the prisoners which were reasonably good or better across HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ healthy prison tests.

 With a capacity of up to 557 prisoners, and opened in 2004, the Sodexo-operated jail holds women ranging from those on remand to those considered as requiring high security restrictions.

 Mr Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “This was our first inspection of Bronzefield since 2015 and, as we did then, we found the prison to be an excellent institution.” Bronzefield was an “overwhelmingly safe prison.”

 However, the population had “become more challenging in recent years, with many experiencing significant mental health problems.” Nearly 70% of prisoners in the inspection survey reported having a mental health problem.

“Recorded violence had increased markedly since our last inspection (in 2015) but most incidents were not serious. Arrangements to reduce violence and support victims required some improvements, although weaknesses were mitigated by some very strong informal support offered to prisoners.”

An investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), following the self-inflicted death of a woman in 2016, had raised significant criticisms, but recommendations made by the PPO had been addressed. Self-harm among prisoners remained high, but overall the care for those in crisis was good.

Bronzefield had a clean and decent environment and its key strength was the quality of staff-prisoner relationships. “Most prisoners felt respected or had someone they could turn to for help. The interactions we observed were impressive. The promotion of equality was appropriately prioritised” Mr Clarke said.

Most prisoners had a good amount of time out of cell and there were sufficient activity places for all. Education, skills and work provision had improved considerably, while achievement among learners had also improved. Ofsted inspectors judged provision to be ‘good’ with some outstanding features.

Work to support rehabilitation and release planning would have benefited from a more comprehensive needs analysis but, despite this, the quality of offender management and the effectiveness of resettlement planning were good and public protection work robust. The high standard of family support was commended as good practice.

Mr Clarke said:

“Bronzefield seemed to us to be meeting nearly all its key objectives. There was work to do – a priority being the reduction of violence – but the overall success of the prison was built on healthy and supportive relationships and the knowledge and understanding the Bronzefield staff had of their prisoners, many of whom had high and complex support needs. In addition to the prison being a safe place, prisoners were treated with care and respect and were helped to progress through their sentence ultimately to the point of release. We leave the prison with a small number of recommendations we hope will assist in further progression and congratulate the managers and staff on what they have been able to achieve.”

Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons, said:

“It is clear that staff at Bronzefield are doing great work to help give women, who often have complex needs, all the tools they need to turn their lives around.

“That work includes supporting them through substance abuse and mental health issues, and ensuring they can get education and training that will help them on release.

“In common with other women’s prisons incidents of self-harm and violence remain a concern, but I am pleased to see the governor and his team put in strong mechanisms to reduce this.”

Read the Report

HMP ONLEY: A chaotic, fundamentally unsafe, prison locked in a battle with drugs and violence.

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“This is a truly shocking report of a prison in complete chaos and in danger of flipping into self-destruct – the lack of Urgent Notification from the Prisons Inspectorate is frankly bewildering.”
Mark Leech

UPDATE:  Mark Leech: Following publication of this post today, and my comments at the bottom of it, I received a juvenile email from the Chief Communications Officer at The Prisons Inspectorate – you can read it, and my reply, here


HMP Onley, a training prison in Warwickshire with 80% of its population from London, is “fundamentally unsafe” with high levels of drugs and violence.

When the Prisons Inspectorate last inspected HMP Onley in 2016 they made 70 recommendations overall. The prison fully accepted 53 of the recommendations and partially (or subject to resources) accepted 16. It rejected one of the recommendations.

At this follow-up inspection in November 2018 – two years later – the Prison Inspectorate found that the prison had achieved 24 of those recommendations, and not achieved 46 recommendations.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had been assessed as ‘poor’ for safety – the lowest assessment – at the previous inspection in 2016.

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When inspectors visited in November 2018, Mr Clarke added, it was “particularly disappointing” to find Onley was still fundamentally unsafe.   “Time and again we find that prisons which are unsafe will struggle to make progress in other areas, and HMP Onley was no exception.”

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The lack of safety was “all too obvious”. The report noted that the reception wing was chaotic and “new arrivals, still carrying their property and stood in the busy corridor, were approached and faced predation by more experienced prisoners.”

 Mr Clarke added: “Perhaps it is not surprising that in our survey only 62% of prisoners said they felt safe on the first night. Sadly, their feelings were an all too accurate reflection of what life in Onley would be like during their time there.”

The prevalence of illicit drugs played a major role in causing destabilising factors such as violence, debt, bullying and health emergencies. During the previous three months there had been 200 emergency health calls related to the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Despite this, we found that far too little was being done to obstruct the flow of drugs into the jail.”

Violence was higher than at similar category C prisons and although prisoner-on-prisoner assaults had decreased since 2016, assaults on staff had more than doubled. Far too many prisoners were self-isolating – refusing to come out of their cells or to go to education, work and training. The prison believed much of the violence was gang-related.

Mr Clarke said: “HMP Onley was a clear example of where the failure to deal with drugs and violence undermined many other aspects of prison life. There was a vicious circle where fear, frustration and boredom increased the demand for drugs, which in turn fuelled the violence.

“In order for Onley to break out of this circle, there must obviously be more effective action taken to reduce violence and the availability of drugs. But at the same time, more can be done in other areas.”

Rubbish was consistently thrown from cells windows and, the report noted, “there were problems with rats, and recent attempts to control the infestation had left some dying in wall cavities and vents, leaving an intolerable smell in some cells.” Accommodation on Onley’s newer wings was better than on its “shabby, cramped” older wings.

Onley was a training prison without enough activity places for the population, and during the inspection only 50% of prisoners were engaged in purposeful activity at any one time. Some 39% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day – far too high a proportion for a training prison. Extensive PE facilities were underused by the prison population, which was predominantly young, with around 60% from a black and minority ethnic background.

Inspectors noted that the prison had run a restricted daily regime for more than four years because of chronic staff shortages, though this was gradually being addressed.

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Mr Clarke said: “There can also be little doubt that doing more to support family relationships would help prisoners rehabilitate and prepare for their eventual release.” The report noted that Onley was in a remote location but there was no transport for families from local stations.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“I would not wish to detract from the many good things being delivered by dedicated and skilful staff. Health care, education, training, industry and offender management leading to release were all areas where there was some very good provision. Sadly, Onley will fail to fulfil its role as a training and resettlement prison until it can deal with the inextricably linked blights of drugs and violence.”

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

“Tackling drugs and violence at Onley is our top priority and, while challenging, significant efforts have been made to drive improvement. These have included a major recruitment drive, with 30% more officers soon to be in place compared to 2018, along with additional security measures such as mail scanners, while a new drug recovery unit is due to open this spring. As the Chief Inspector makes clear, despite the difficulties there is good work going on at Onley to help prisoners turn their lives around and reduce the risk of reoffending on release.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report showed “a prison in complete chaos”.

Mr Leech writes:

This is a truly shocking report of a prison in complete chaos and in danger of flipping into self-destruct – the lack of Urgent Notification from the Prisons Inspectorate at Onley is frankly bewildering.

Onley is a fundamentally unsafe prison, previous recommendations on safety, decency, and respect have been ignored wholescale.

Drugs and violence have taken control, and Onley ticks all the Urgent Notification boxes – yet the Prisons Inspectorate has failed yet again to activate a procedure designed for exactly these kind of situations.

I have heard it suggested elsewhere that political pressure was placed on the Prisons Inspectorate to ‘give it a rest’ and not to activate the Urgent Notification procedure ‘for a while’, after four in a row were bowled stump high at the Justice Secretary last year – true or not, if Onley doesn’t meet the test for the Urgent Notification procedure, then I’d like someone to tell me exactly what does.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales
@prisonsorguk