HMP Forest Bank – a large male prison in Salford, Greater Manchester – was found generally to have remained a well-led, competent and confident prison since its previous inspection in 2016.
However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said it was evident in May 2019 that safety in the prison, holding more than 1,400 prisoners from the age of 18, had deteriorated.
Inspectors found that violence, mostly prisoner on prisoner and much of it serious, had doubled in three years. Use of force by staff had also risen, though inspectors found evidence of effective de-escalation of incidents by staff.
A third of prisoners said they felt unsafe, Mr Clarke said, “a situation that was even worse among vulnerable prisoners where the finding was 52%. There needed to be greater focus and coordination to address violence, by, for example, incentivising good behaviour and consistently holding to account those who behaved poorly.”
Security generally was applied proportionately at Forest Bank and inspectors identified the management and use of intelligence as a strength, with close working relationships with local police and robust staff anti-corruption arrangements. Many prisoners suggested that access to drugs was comparatively easy but the positive mandatory drug test rate was lower than at most similar prisons.
Self-harm had increased significantly since 2016. Some improvements had been made to case management support (ACCT) processes, although a good scheme to invite families to case management reviews was only used intermittently.
Relationships between staff and prisoners were respectful and polite, although inspectors were concerned that staff, many very inexperienced, did not assert sufficient authority when supervising prisoners.
Most prisoners were positive about most aspects of daily life at Forest Bank – including the food and good access to the shop – and accommodation was generally clean and bright. However, some 60% of single cells were doubled up and therefore overcrowded, and much furniture and cell equipment was damaged or missing.
Diversity and equality was promoted reasonably well through a comprehensive action plan and helpful consultation, including innovative one-to-one surgeries for prisoners with protected characteristics.
Time out of cell was better than inspectors often see and the daily routine, including access to evening association, was reliable, although nearly half the population was locked up during the working day. There were sufficient places in work and education for all and attendance, if not punctuality, were good. Ofsted inspectors judged the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work as ‘good’ – a “not insignificant achievement in a local prison”, Mr Clarke said.
Rehabilitation and release planning continued to be a real strength of the prison. Assessments of prisoners and sentence management were reasonably good, and public protection arrangements were robust, with the prison’s whole approach to resettlement supported by strong community links. Support for family ties and engagement was similarly very positive.
Overall, Mr Clarke said:
“Forest Bank continued to be a reasonably well ordered and settled prison delivering generally good outcomes. Prisoners could, for example, access a better regime than we normally see for this type of prison. Rehabilitation and resettlement work was consistently a strength. Overall this is an encouraging report, although we do identify more work to do in safety and in providing support to staff.”
Phil Copple, Director General of Prisons, said:
“I am pleased that the inspectors have found that HMP Forest Bank remains well-led by Sodexo with some good work educating and rehabilitating prisoners.
“More needs to be done to ensure there is a reduction in violence and self-harm, but I know that the prison director has already made progress including boosting support for vulnerable prisoners and appointing additional senior managers to improve safety and aid staff development.
“We will continue to monitor Sodexo’s performance to ensure they act on inspectors’ recommendations.”