HMP Doncaster – “A very poor prison, safety a major concern” say Inspectors

HMP Doncaster
HMP Doncaster

Safety was a major concern at HMP Doncaster and a lack of staff was contributing to problems, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the South Yorkshire local jail.

HMP Doncaster, which opened in 1994 and is managed by Serco, holds just over 1,000 adult and young adult male prisoners. At the time of the inspection the population had been reduced by 100 as part of a response to the difficulties the prison found itself in. A previous inspection in March 2014 found a poorly performing institution in a state of drift. This more recent inspection 18 months later found that many problems remained unaddressed and some had worsened, although the recent appointment of a new director had led to some improvements.


Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • Doncaster receives new prisoners from the streets, with many pressing risks and needs, but its initial risk assessment remained inadequate and early days procedures did not focus sufficiently on prisoner safety;
  • levels of assault were much higher than in similar prisons and many violent incidents had resulted in serious injuries for staff and prisoners;
  • despite some efforts to understand these problems, initiatives to address violence were ineffective and investigations were weak;
  • the incidence of self-harm was very high and there had been three self-inflicted deaths in the previous 18 months;
  • despite the generally caring approach of staff, monitoring procedures for those at risk of self-harm (ACCT) were not good enough, support was intermittent and inspectors found too many prisoners in crisis left isolated in poor conditions;
  • staff on the wings were overwhelmed: there were too few staff and they did not have enough support;
  • security, derived from good relationships and interactions, was weak;
  • in the preceding few months there had been numerous acts of indiscipline, including barricades, hostage incidents and incidents at height;
  • drugs were widely available, and many prisoners told inspectors that new psychoactive substances were a major problem;
  • not enough was done to encourage good behaviour;
  • use of force and the special cell were high and increasing, but governance and supervision were inadequate;
  • environmental conditions throughout the prison were very poor, with filth, graffiti, missing windows and inadequate furniture in many cells;
  • health care provision had deteriorated; and
  • time out of cell for prisoners was erratic and poorly managed and although there were sufficient activity places for prisoners to have at least part-time work, training or education, these were still underused.


However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there were many good staff trying to do their best, although professional boundaries were not well managed and there was a lack of challenge to poor behaviour;
  • there were early signs of improvement in the promotion of equality and the work with the 6% of the population who were foreign nationals was better than inspectors usually see;
  • for those who did attend education, the quality of teaching and instruction was generally good, as were standards of work and the level of achievement by prisoners; and
  • the quality of offender management was better than usual in local prisons and the delivery of resettlement services was generally good.


Martin Lomas said:

“Doncaster has been a more effective prison in the past and we saw some very good people during our inspection. However, this report describes a very poor prison. The relative competence of the learning and skills and resettlement providers did not compensate for the inadequate standards across much of the prison and the lack of staff was a critical problem. The director and his management team were not in denial of the difficulties and there was evidence that the decline was being arrested; the prison certainly cannot be allowed to get any worse.”


Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:

“This is a disappointing report which reflects the considerable challenges Doncaster is currently facing.

“There have been a number of improvements since the time of the inspection, including an increase in the number of staff and the refurbishment of the prison accommodation.

“However we will continue to monitor the prison closely through a formal performance management process until the concerns highlighted by the independent inspectorate have been satisfactorily addressed.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 9 March 2016 at: