HMP HIGH DOWN – Energetic management has improved safety but training and education remain a weakness

HMP High Down, a category B prison in Surrey holding about 1,200 prisoners, was found by inspectors to have made good or reasonable progress in some key areas of concern at its last full inspection, including safety and care for vulnerable prisoners.

However, it still struggled to address weaknesses in the provision of purposeful activity, including training and education.

Publishing an Independent Review of Progress (IRP), Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that at the inspection in May 2018 inspectors had found that “arrival and early days procedures were a significant concern. The prison was failing to support prisoners at the time when they were likely to be at their most vulnerable.

“The management of the segregation unit was poor and levels of violence in the prison had increased.” There were also significant weaknesses in public protection work. Purposeful activity was judged as ‘poor’, the lowest possible rating. In May 2018, High Down had been told its function would change and uncertainty about its future role was hindering the prison’s ability to plan and progress.

At the time of the IRP in June 2019, however, Mr Clarke said High Down “had finally decided to focus on the local prison population it held and was no longer allowing itself to be distracted by the prospect of a change in function”.

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In the test for safety, the reception process was now far better organised. “We saw prisoners being screened thoroughly for vulnerabilities on arrival, and first night accommodation was generally well prepared.” Violence had continued to rise in line with other establishments, but a well-considered violence reduction strategy had now been implemented “and time would tell if it was fit for purpose.”

Attempts to understand and address the continuing disproportionate use of force against black and minority ethnic prisoners had been too slow, although a prisoner survey had recently been completed and was awaiting analysis. In the six months before the IRP 47% of use of force incidents involved black and minority ethnic men, who represented 35% of the population. The prison knew that disproportionate use of restraint was particularly an issue with black men aged 21–29 but had made little progress in addressing this problem.

Inspectors’ concerns in May 2018 about the arbitrary management of prisoners in the segregation unit had been addressed effectively and there was good progress against a 2018 recommendation about the need for drug- and alcohol-dependent prisoners to receive medication swiftly after arrival.

In rehabilitation and release planning, inspectors found more efficient and improving risk management planning before release, and better analysis of needs, although this work had also been affected by the uncertainty surrounding the role of the prison. Public protection monitoring had improved, though it was still not sufficiently rigorous.

However, purposeful activity remained a weakness and a concern for inspectors. While there had been reasonable progress in activity induction processes, in two of the three themes assessed under Ofsted’s methodology, the prison was judged to have made insufficient progress.

“Attendance and punctuality were still poor, the number of activity places had not increased and nearly half the population was unemployed,” Mr Clarke added.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“At this IRP, we found a focused and motivated management team, and staff who were keen to demonstrate that they were addressing the concerns raised at the inspection. Their efforts had resulted in reasonable or good scores in seven of the 12 recommendations and Ofsted themes, but there were considerable challenges ahead, not least in improving purposeful activity outcomes. Although the uncertainty about the prison’s future had yet to be fully resolved by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), we saw considerable local energy behind the challenge to turn progress into tangible outcomes.”

Read the Report