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