Dartmoor, one of Britain’s oldest jails and home to hundreds of sex offenders, needs help from the prison service to improve “shocking” failings in its work to protect the public from the risk posed by men it releases, according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
The number of sex offenders had doubled over four years as a proportion of Dartmoor’s population – to 70%, around 440 at the time of the August 2017 inspection. There were also a substantial number of men serving long sentences for violence and other serious offences. It releases hundreds of men each year.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the jail was well led in many ways but there was “confusion nationally” about its role. “Our most serious concerns related to resettlement. Dartmoor was not a designated resettlement prison, which meant it did not have adequate resources to effectively engage in pre-release planning.
“Despite this, over 200 men in the year leading up to the inspection had been released from the prison. Our projections indicated the number would be even higher next year. In addition, offender management provision did not ensure that men received support to reduce the risks of harm they might pose to the public on release, or that release planning for the highest-risk men was timely or comprehensive. This was a shocking and totally unacceptable situation, given the generally high-risk population being released from Dartmoor.”
The situation was exacerbated by the prison’s inability to move men to resettlement prisons in the local area and a hiatus in the delivery of specialist offending programmes for men convicted of sexual offences. Inspectors found that 511 of the 633 men in the jail were under MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements), the system for managing risk to the public. Despite this level of risk, they also found that:
- Release planning for high-risk prisoners “was often unplanned, rushed and poor.” Far too many men left Dartmoor either homeless or in very temporary accommodation.
- While national prisons strategy involved transferring men back to a local resettlement prison three months prior to their release, this did not happen in Dartmoor.
- There was little provision at Dartmoor for men who were in denial of their sexual convictions and “too many sexual offenders were released without having sufficiently addressed their attitude, thinking or behaviour.”
Dartmoor was established in 1809 and has had many roles within the prison system, becoming, by 2017, a category C training prison. Inspectors noted that the prison had taken the “bold step” of integrating sex offenders and other prisoners, with low levels of violence.
In the heart of Dartmoor and built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the prison remained under threat of closure and local managers felt this had resulted in a degree of ‘planning blight’, with a reluctance to invest in upgrading the poor infrastructure. Some buildings were poor, with pervasive damp in many cells. Nevertheless, men were found to be generally positive about the amenities offered, and staff-prisoner relationships were very good. Some good work had taken place to support disabled and elderly men at the prison, though a significant investment in adapting the buildings was needed if these men were to receive consistently good treatment.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“We had significant concerns about the lack of clarity relating to the prison’s resettlement and risk management responsibilities, and in particular its inability to carry out adequate pre-release planning for men being released from the prison. While we considered Dartmoor to be well led and making strides in some important areas, it was being hampered by confusion nationally about its role, doubts about its future and inadequate resources to do the job it was being asked to do. The solutions to many of the most significant concerns we raise in this report are not in the gift of the governor; the active support of HM Prison and Probation Service is needed.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:
“Protecting the public is our priority and all high-risk offenders released from HMP Dartmoor are supervised by the National Probation Service. The vast majority are released to approved accommodation and all are seen by their probation officer on the first day of release to reinforce their licence conditions. A review of risk management arrangements has taken place and a new senior probation officer is also already in post to oversee the management of higher risk offenders. As the Chief Inspector makes clear the prison is well led and the Governor will receive the support she needs to address the recommendations set out in this report.”
A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons