HMP BEDFORD – Still very violent, with little or no progress on addressing key safety issues

HMIP made an IRP visit to HMP Bedford between 5 and 7 August 2019.

Nearly a year after an inspection which triggered an Urgent Notification at HMP Bedford, a review by inspectors found insufficient or no progress in key aspects of safety and security.

The prison was found to be fundamentally unsafe at the full inspection in August and September 2018, with alarming levels of drug-fuelled violence.

When inspectors returned for an independent review of progress in August 2019, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, “they found a mixed picture with progress ranging from none to good, but in the majority of areas progress had been insufficient.”

The level of violence was still very high, with some serious incidents, and self-harm had increased dramatically since the inspection. “Efforts to reduce violence had been limited and very slow to start. The attention given to preventing self-harm and supporting those in crisis was poor.”

Inspectors found that prisoners appeared to have little to fear from behaving badly. Some staff were reluctant to challenge rule breaking because they felt that the formal procedures to address prisoners’ poor behaviour were not effective.

The report noted: “In this permissive culture of poor behaviour, prisoners felt able to push the boundaries further – such as refusing to return to their cell at lock-up time or creating chaos when returning to units from outdoor exercise. If not managed consistently and firmly, this negative behaviour had the potential to escalate, as we had witnessed during the inspection in 2018.”

Use of force by staff was exceptionally high and needed immediate attention to identify the reasons why. Despite significant efforts, Mr Clarke said, illicit drugs continued to be a major problem, and the lack of a body scanner to detect drugs was indefensible.

Among more positive findings, living conditions, including “appalling” conditions in segregation, had improved, as had prisoner access to basics such as bedding and furniture, though Bedford remained an unsuitable location for prisoners with severe physical mobility problems. A serious problem with rats had been successfully tackled. Overall, there was good progress in ensuring prisoners lived in clean and decent conditions.

There had been no increase in the time that prisoners had out of their cell for association, outdoor exercise and completing domestic tasks. However, Ofsted inspectors judged there to be sufficient progress in two of the three themes they reviewed. Progress in the three areas of rehabilitation and release planning that were reviewed was reasonable or good.

Mr Clarke said progress in addressing the serious issues raised in the Urgent Notification (UN) issued in September 2018 had clearly been hampered because the prison had been far too slow in taking remedial action. “A new governor took up post in January 2019 and had to take some time to assess what he found and draw up his own plans. The result was that it took around six months before the prison started to make any properly focused response to the UN. This is not the first time I have had to comment on the slow response to a UN. At Bedford, urgent action should have been driven by the clear threats to the safety of staff and prisoners identified during our inspection. The slowness of the response is difficult to understand.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There is a real need for the corporate HM Prison and Probation Service response to Urgent Notifications to become prompt, focused on specific HMIP recommendations and regularly monitored against outcomes. It is to the credit of the leadership at Bedford that they have generated their own plans that are focused on the specific issues affecting the prison, and are much more closely aligned to the concerns expressed by HMIP. There has not yet been time for them to have the desired impact, but at least there is now encouraging progress in some areas.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook called the report ‘disappointing”.

Mr Leech said: “I think that, like many others, when Urgent Notifications were introduced they were expected to lead to real improvements – this report shows that should have been more of a hope than an expectation.

” A year down the line not only has very little changed at Bedford, but in some key areas of safety they have actually got worse and that is what I find disappointing and frankly unacceptable.

“Urgent Notifications were introduced because prisons, year after year, were failing to implement the recommendations of the Prisons Inspectorate with the inevitable result that when things reached absolute rock bottom the Urgent Notification was meant to identify that, and with an action plan resolve it.

“That has not happened and it risks undermining the whole Urgent Notification process itself.”

 

HMP/YOI SWINFEN HALL – Improved safety and activity, but progress slow in other areas

Progress toward improvement in HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall, after a troubling inspection in 2018, was found to be mixed when inspectors revisited the prison in July 2019.

However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that the mixed overall picture masked the prison’s important work to improve safety and purposeful activity, including training and education.

In 2018, Swinfen Hall – near Lichfield and holding around 570 young male offenders serving sentences of four years or more – was assessed as not sufficiently good for safety and poor for purposeful activity.

Mr Clarke said that in 2018 the poor regime had a negative impact on every aspect of prison life. “We found that it was disrupted about 60% of the time, limiting prisoner access to work and education. The lack of time out of cell had an acute effect on younger prisoners and those who were vulnerable or prone to committing acts of self-harm.”

In 2019, in an independent review of progress, inspectors found that the prison had recently implemented a new “domestic period” ensuring that all prisoners were offered a daily shower and a telephone call, and evening association was now far more predictable than at the time of the inspection.

Managers had increased the number of activity places and the allocation process had improved, halving the number of prisoners who were unemployed. However, Mr Clarke added, “the population had also increased in this time and the prison was still some way off being able to ensure that every prisoner could access full-time employment. This was a significant deficiency in a training prison holding a long-term young population.”

Swinfen Hall had received prisoners from the long-term young offender institution at Aylesbury, contributing to a spike in violence earlier in 2019. “Despite these challenges, managers had made tangible progress. A dedicated team of supervising officers now investigated all violent incidents swiftly, and managers used data better to understand the causes of violence and take action.” The report highlighted positive action in introducing metal detector wands on all prisoners leaving two residential units and the prison looked at the ‘Viper’ scores – Violence in prison estimator, a calculation based on an estimation of how violent a person may be – of all new arrivals. “This was impressive. It afforded an early opportunity to identify prisoners who might perpetrate violence.”

Care for prisoners at risk of self-harm had also improved, though overall levels of self-harm remained a concern. The introduction of key workers and a more predictable regime had led to improvements in staff-prisoner relationships but there had been little or no progress in improving the complaints system. The pace of work to understand and meet the needs of the younger prisoners was too slow.

Progress was the least well developed for rehabilitation and release planning. Despite some work to improve the punctuality of visits, their provision was not sufficient to meet demand, particularly at weekends. Some prisoners could come into the prison, serve their time and be released without doing any focused offence-related work.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“This was a mixed review. Managers had understandably prioritised the areas of safety and activity and had made progress here. However, progress in other areas had started too late to have an impact, and in several areas senior managers needed to ensure that the quality assurance processes they had introduced were effective in improving outcomes for prisoners.”

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HMP Channings Wood: improvement and greater consistency across many aspects of prison life

HMP Channings Wood, a men’s prison in Devon, was found in an independent review of progress (IRP) to have successfully addressed many of the inconsistencies and weaknesses evident in a full inspection in 2018.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that at the inspection in September 2018, “we assessed outcomes for prisoners as not sufficiently good across all four of our healthy prison tests – the same assessment as at the previous inspection in 2016.

“We found that inconsistency of outcomes was a recurrent theme. This was best exemplified in varying standards being accepted across the different accommodation blocks, and in partial or uncoordinated implementation of initiatives designed to improve outcomes [for prisoners].” In 2018, Mr Clarke had concluded “that the enthusiasm and openness of managers at Channings Wood needed to be supplemented with active, visible leadership, ensuring that improvement was achieved and sustained.”

A largely positive IRP visit in July 2019 found that the prison and its leaders “had taken their cue very positively from our findings and recommendations, and within nine months had moved ahead in the great majority of the areas where we had identified weaknesses.

“In particular, our call for much greater coordination and consistency of standards had been heeded.” Reasonable or good progress had been made in carrying out 11 of the 13 key recommendations in 2018.

On two recommendations, inspectors judged there had been insufficient progress. However, Mr Clarke said that one of those – relating to the resourcing and timing of mandatory drugs tests of prisoners – had to be set against the prison’s overall improved effectiveness in tackling the supply of illegal drugs into the prison.

There was also insufficient progress in dealing with the poor physical condition of some of the living units but improvement in this area depended to a large extent on budgetary issues, “where other priorities had proved pressing on security grounds.”

Among positive IRP findings, the level of violence against staff had decreased, and in other areas of safety the figures relating to violence did not show any increasing trends. There were also some signs that use of new psychoactive substances, and of drugs in general, were on the decrease. Vulnerable prisoners said that they were now safer on their induction unit.

Inspectors found that leadership and governance in health and social care had improved, a more satisfactory complaints system had been established and there had been some recent improvements in equality work. Ofsted inspectors found some improvements in education, skills and work.

Work to reduce reoffending had already become more consistent, with layers of assurance added to ensure that public protection responsibilities were carried out thoroughly, especially for high-risk prisoners approaching release, Mr Clarke added.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“At this IRP, we found strong leadership beginning to bear fruit in real improvements to almost all of the areas which we followed up from our recent inspection. There was a clear sense of coordination and of direction; this was attested to not just by managers, but also by staff, and by some prisoners as well. Most staff whom we met or observed, including many in their first year of service, were engaged, appreciative of the new management approaches and well-motivated in their work.”

 Facts

HMP Channings Wood is a training and resettlement prison near Newton Abbot in Devon, holding up to 724 adult men.

Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) are a new type of prison visit, which began in April 2019. They were developed because Ministers wanted an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented HMI Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning prison inspections. IRPs are not inspections and do not result in new judgements against our healthy prison tests. Rather they judge progress being made against the key recommendations made at the previous inspection. The visits are announced and happen eight to 12 months after the original inspection. They last 2.5 days and involve a comparatively small team. Reports are published within 25 working days of the end of the visit. We conduct 15 to 20 IRPs each year. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons selects sites for IRPs based on previous healthy prison test assessments and a range of other factors. For more on IRPs please see – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/about-hmi-prisons/independent-reviews-of-progress-irps/

This IRP visit took place between 1 and 3 July 2019.

At this IRP visit, we followed up 13 of the 60 recommendations made at our most recent inspection and made judgements about the degree of progress achieved to date. We judged that there was good progress in six recommendations, reasonable progress in five recommendations and insufficient progress in two recommendations. We found no recommendations where there had been no meaningful progress.

HMP Manchester: Some improvements but progress is slow and weak in key areas

HMP Manchester, an important local prison in a major English city, was assessed by inspectors as having made slow and weak progress in many key areas where improvement was urged after a full inspection in 2018.

An Independent Review of Progress (IRP) at Manchester took place in June 2019, 11 months after the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said the prison needed to “up its game.”

Mr Clarke said: “The response to the 2018 inspection can only be described as too late and too weak. It is true that there were some encouraging outcomes, and most functional heads demonstrated enthusiasm and a commitment to improving their areas. However, we found there had been little or no meaningful progress against two-thirds of our recommendations.”

The prison had recently revised its safety strategy. “Assaults on prisoners had reduced significantly since the full inspection, and we judged there to have been reasonable progress in this area.” Mr Clarke added, though: “If the establishment is to reduce violence further, particularly against staff, the lengthy list of actions aimed at reducing violence should be prioritised.”

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The use of force by staff remained high. “Despite this, there had been no meaningful progress against this recommendation; governance had not improved, staff rarely used their body-worn cameras, with no adequate explanation for this, and too few recorded incidents were scrutinised to provide assurance and institutional learning.”

The prison had made reasonable progress – the second-highest assessment, below good – in efforts to reduce the supply of drugs. Mandatory testing results showed that drug use was relatively low compared with other local prisons.

However, promising work to support prisoners in crisis had started so recently that progress at the time of the IRP visit had to be judged as insufficient. “This was very concerning given that there had been three further self-inflicted deaths since the full inspection in July 2018. It was bewildering to find that actions to prevent deaths in custody simply had not been reviewed until shortly before our visit. Similarly, the introduction of key work and wing peer support had been so slow that we could not yet see sufficient progress in this area.”

The prison had made concerted efforts to tackle the ongoing vermin problem, and some improvements had been made to living conditions.

There was also evidence of reasonable progress in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, though Ofsted inspectors found that attendance at work and education was not prioritised and too much activity was curtailed. Too few prisoners completed their courses and achievements were not sufficiently good.

Mr Clarke said there had been no meaningful progress in the important areas of equality and diversity or time out of cell. A spot check on one wing found 49% of prisoners locked up during the day.

Mr Clarke said: “HMP Manchester was relatively well resourced and had fewer inexperienced staff than we have found at similar prisons. It was therefore hard to understand why progress had been so slow in many critical areas. Such progress as there had been had only started in the weeks and months immediately leading up to this review visit.

“Without a fundamental shift in attitude towards the findings of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, we had no confidence that there could be significant improvements in the future. At the full inspection we had been told that reconfiguration to a category B training prison was imminent. On this visit… we were told that the target date had been moved to October 2019. It is my considered view that unless the culture of the prison changes, and the need for improvement is taken seriously, it will not be ready for this change.”

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HMP Birmingham – a mixed bag of some progress in tackling violence and squalor, but weaknesses in education and management of sex offenders

HMP Birmingham has made reasonable progress in tackling the violence, drug use and squalor evident in a disturbing inspection of the prison in the summer of 2018.

However, an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) in May 2019 found a mixed overall picture, with insufficient progress in tackling antisocial behaviour and in improving work, training and education for most prisoners. There was no meaningful progress in work to support the large number of sex offenders to address their offending behaviour.

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Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, recalled that HMP Birmingham was found to be in an “appalling state” during an inspection in August 2018, with the treatment of prisoners among the worst inspectors had seen in recent years. He was so concerned that he invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification Protocol. Birmingham was then run by G4S but it has since been announced that it will return to the public sector.

At the IRP visit in May 2019, Mr Clarke said, inspectors found that the prison “had worked exceptionally hard to address violence. The causes of violence were now well understood and a range of actions had been taken to make the prison safer.” Levels of violence had decreased since 2018, though they remained considerably higher than the average for similar prisons.

There had been no progress at all on the recommendation that:

  • The prison should implement a strategy to manage and progress sex offenders in order to address their offending behaviour, who cannot be appropriately progressed, specific and sufficient offending behaviour work should be provided at Birmingham. The skills mix in the offender management unit should be improved, to reflect the need to work effectively with a large high-risk population.

There had been insufficient progress on recommendations that:

  • the perpetrators of violence and antisocial behaviour should be subject to appropriate administrative or disciplinary actions
  • all victims of violence and antisocial behaviour should be identified and assisted with comprehensive support plans which include access to regime activities
  • progress leaders and managers have made in implementing an education, skills and work provision that meets the prison population’s needs, including the prioritisation of sentenced prisoners’ session attendance
  • English and mathematics development and pre-release preparation
  • there should be a fundamental improvement in the quality of care for prisoners in distress and those at risk of self-harm who should be properly supported, and triggers addressed such as poor living conditions and isolation.

There had been reasonable progress on recommendations that:

  • The prison’s drug supply and demand strategy should be further developed, to identify additional practical measures to stop the ingress of drugs and reduce demand more robustly. It should include measures to develop a culture that does not tolerate drug use and actively supports those who are using to stop.
  • Staff should be effectively supervised, coached and trained to maintain appropriate professional standards and provide a proper balance of care and control.
  • All steps, including consultation with prisoners, should be taken to understand and analyse the causes of violence and antisocial behaviour. Actions should be taken to reduce violence, and the effectiveness of these should be monitored over time.
  • Gaps and weaknesses in public protection arrangements should be identified and urgent remedial action should be taken to protect victims and potential victims.
  • What progress have leaders and managers made in identifying and addressing fully the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, who attend education programmes, so they achieve to an appropriately high level? Addresses previous inspection report recommendation.
  • Measures to ensure prisoners faced sanctions for their poor behaviour looked encouraging but had only recently been introduced and were not yet working effectively. Similarly, considerable efforts had been made to identify victims of violence and bullying but as yet too little support had been offered.

Inspectors no longer observed overt drug use on the wings, Mr Clarke said. However, one in four prisoners were still testing positive for drugs “and I found it inexplicable that the prison had been unable to secure funding for equipment such as a body scanner to help them stop drugs entering the prison.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners had improved, and the prison felt more ordered and controlled. In August 2018 inspectors had found that control in the “fundamentally unsafe” prison was tenuous. In 2019, “staff were more accountable, better supported and more able to establish appropriate boundaries and challenge poor prisoner behaviour.” The prison was also now much cleaner.

The prison had made reasonable progress in identifying and addressing the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. But progress across other areas of education, skills and work, assessed by Ofsted inspectors, was insufficient. “The provision did not meet most prisoners’ needs – most critically the substantial number of prisoners requiring English and mathematics education. Attendance at activities was low.”

Many of the weaknesses in public protection arrangements evident in 2018 had been addressed. However, Mr Clarke added: “The prison had devised a strategy to manage and progress the substantial number of prisoners convicted of sexual offences but, with no support or agreement from across the wider HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), the strategy was unrealistic and likely to fail.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“It is only right that I recognise the scale of the task to improve the treatment and conditions for prisoners at Birmingham. It is huge. There is no doubt that the prison faces a long journey of recovery. It is very clear that the governor, through his vision and very visible leadership, has energised the staff and undoubted pride and optimism are emerging around the prison. I think that optimism is well founded. Birmingham has already made some tangible improvements and has the capacity for further change and improvement if it retains strong leadership and if those responsible for Birmingham at national and regional level provide it with the support necessary to sustain what has begun.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

On the face of it, this is a fairly balanced report, showing that Birmingham under the step-in powers (that become permanent next month) has made real progress under the Governorship of the rightly-regarded Paul Newton – but the problem I have with it, and it’s a failure running through all of Peter Clarke’s reporting – including this one –  is the complete lack of detail in terms of support for his findings.

All Inspectorate reports contain ‘partially achieved’ assessments, but the Chief Inspector has publicly confirmed there is no criteria for these assessments; it depends on the judgement of the inspector on the day. Moreover, requests for copies of the notes taken by Inspectors to support those assessments have been refused by the Chief Inspector.

The same flaw has regrettably infected these new ‘Interim Reviews of Progress’.

For example in this report, he lists areas where there has been ‘no progress’, ‘insufficient progress’, and ‘reasonable progress’, but he gives absolutely no detail whatsoever as to the evidence to support those conclusions nor, where he finds a lack of progress, does he set out what needs to be done for progress to be made.

This is contrary to previous Chief Inspectors who when they made assessments provided clear evidence to support their conclusions.

This has been a constant feature of this chief inspector and it is one that he has continually failed to remedy.

Additionally, while Clarke makes sweeping statements such as he made about Bristol prison recently (that the prison was fully staffed) he gives no details about that staffing, nor the basis upon which the calculations as to a full complement of staff are based.

A further common flaw in Clarke’s reports has been to make recommendations without any thought as to where the resources are to come from to implement those recommendations – and he later then castigates the prison for their failure to implement those very same recommendations which in many cases were destined to fil for a lack of resources to implement them from the beginning.

Peter Clarke is due to retire next February from this role, my hope is that whoever replaces him brings a greater understanding of the problems faced by our prisons than Clarke has brought to the role.

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First of the new HMI ‘Independent Review of Progress’ Reports shows “Too Little Too Late” at HMP Exeter

“A thoroughly depressing report”
Mark Leech, Editor:  The Prisons Handbook
for England and Wales

Work to address key failings at HMP Exeter, a troubled prison found last year to suffer high levels of drug-fuelled violence, has lacked urgency, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

In the first of its new ‘Independent Reviews of Progress’ (IRPs) – in Exeter in April 2019 – HMIP tested progress against key recommendations from a full inspection in May last year. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, was so concerned by the conditions in Exeter at that time that he issued a rarely-used ‘Urgent Notification’ requiring the Secretary of State to respond with plans for improvement within 28 days.

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The IRP visit presented a mixed picture. One of the most troubling findings was ‘no meaningful progress’ in understanding the factors underlying high levels of illicit drug use.

Mr Clarke said that while there had been progress on some aspects, “the lack of progress in over half the 13 recommendations that we reviewed could be characterised by the statement ‘too little too late’.

“The purpose of the Urgent Notification Protocol, which is only used where I have serious concerns about the treatment of and conditions for prisoners, is to initiate immediate remedial action.

“At Exeter, in too many critical areas, this simply had not happened. It was not clear whether this was as a result of a conscious decision not to prioritise our recommendations, bureaucratic inertia, or whether managers were simply overwhelmed or uncertain as to how to set about making the much-needed improvements. 

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“Whatever the reason, there had not been a sufficient sense of urgency in the prison’s response to a number of key recommendations.”

In the May 2018 inspection, inspectors found there had been six self-inflicted deaths between 2016 and 2018 and self-harm had risen by 40%. Despite these levels of vulnerability, self-harm and suicide, cell call bells were routinely ignored by staff. The rate of assaults between prisoners was then the highest inspectors had seen in a local prison in recent years.

In April 2019, the IRP found that overall levels of violence had decreased, though they remained higher than in similar prisons. Mr Clarke said: “A number of actions had been taken to reduce violence and the strategy to reduce violence further in the future was promising.” The use of unregulated segregation had been eradicated, and governance of the use of force by staff was improving.

“However, despite a rise in the already high use of illicit drugs in the establishment, there had been an inexplicable failure to develop a comprehensive drug strategy which, if properly implemented, would certainly contribute to a reduction in violence. A draft strategy was being put together and it is essential that this is now treated as a priority.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners were found to be improving and improvement processes were in place to monitor cell bell responses. There was progress on prisoner applications and complaints, though equality and diversity work had not been prioritised at all. Similarly, attendance at education and work, some of which remained mundane, had not been prioritised.

Mr Clarke said that after the Urgent Notification the prison was required to produce an action plan for the Secretary of State but a number of the deadlines in this plan had not been met on time.

“Nevertheless, there had been a proactive response to some recommendations in critical areas and there are now credible plans to make further improvements in the future. It is unfortunate that the prison had not devised and implemented some of these plans earlier as they would no doubt have led to a more positive assessment at this review of progress.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales called the report ‘thoroughly depressing’.

Mr Leech said: “We all had high hopes that the Urgent Notification process would lead to real and lasting improvements in those prisons which have been subject to it – HMP Exeter was the first such prison to benefit from a post Urgent Notification IRP and this review of progress is a thoroughly depressing report that demonstrates that not even the Justice Secretary’s public undertakings of progress can be relied upon.”

The report is available here: https://www.prisons.org.uk/Exeter-HMI-IRP-052019.pdf