HMP Guys Marsh – “tangible progress for the first time in many years”

Guys Marsh, a training and resettlement jail in Dorset assessed as ‘out of control’ five years ago, showed substantial improvement in the most recent inspection.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the Inspectorate had considered the prison, near Shaftesbury, to be high risk for a number of years. “When we inspected in 2014 we found a prison we described as being out of control. Our subsequent inspection in 2016 saw only marginal improvements…

“It is therefore pleasing to report that, following this inspection (in December 2018 and January 2019) we found a prison where improvement was both substantial and significant.”

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Considerable concerns about safety remained, including high levels of violence driven by drugs and debt, and the frequent use of force by staff. Despite this, Guys Marsh was assessed as a safer prison “and our overall impression was of a calmer, more settled institution.”

The prison had been slow to formulate strategies to reduce the violence but more recently had established a firmer grip. Mr Clarke added: “We saw evidence of several useful initiatives to better understand and confront violence as well as improve support for more isolated individuals.” Staff and prisoners sought solutions to the violence in a ‘violence summit.’

Security was applied proportionately at the prison, with attention to combating illicit drug use. However, many initiatives were new and untested and with the mandatory positive drug testing rate at 27%, the evidence suggested a still considerable problem.

“There had been one self-inflicted death since we last inspected and a further four where evidence pointed to a connection to the use of illegal drugs. Recommendations following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) investigations had been implemented but there remained a problem with increased self-harm among prisoners.” However, there was a significant amount of work being done to try to improve the situation and support for those in crisis seemed good.

Inspectors found that staff supervision and visibility were reasonable – with senior managers particularly prominent. Staff-prisoner relationships were mostly good and the key worker scheme seemed to be helping greatly. The fabric of the prison needed renewal, though this work had begun. The prison was cleaner than before and access to facilities and amenities was much improved, though there was still some overcrowding in cramped cells.

Daily routines in the prison were no longer as restricted as at previous inspections and were now far more predictable. Despite this, a quarter of prisoners were still locked in cells during the working day. Ofsted inspectors assessed the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work as ‘requires improvement’. In contrast, the management of rehabilitation was much improved and robust.

Mr Clarke said:

“This inspection of Guys Marsh evidenced tangible progress for the first time in many years. There was still much to correct and improve but managers were visible and there was good leadership, as well as commitment and enthusiasm among those who worked there. The prison was far more settled and there was an underpinning commitment to promoting well-being among all those held.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“We placed the prison in special measures in 2017 and I’m pleased the Chief Inspector has recognised the significant improvements it has made since then. It is a commendable achievement by the prison’s staff and management and while there is clearly more to do, the rollout of the key worker scheme, further refurbishments and a new CCTV system to boost security have led to further progress since the inspection.”

Read the Report Here

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

HMP LEWES – “Decline while in ‘Special Measures’ suggests systemic Prison Service failure”

Treatment and conditions for men in HMP Lewes in Sussex declined over two years while the jail was subject to HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) ‘special measures.’ The failure of special measures suggested a systemic failure within the prison service, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The prison was last inspected in January 2016, when inspectors found it to be reasonably good in respect and resettlement, and not sufficiently good in safety and purposeful activity.

Unfortunately, Mr Clarke said, “the findings of this inspection (in January 2019) were deeply troubling and indicative of systemic failure within the prison service. We found that in three areas – respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – there had been a decline in performance.

“In the fourth area, the key one of safety, although performance was not so poor as to drag the assessment to the lowest possible level, it was undoubtedly heading in that direction.

“What makes the decline at Lewes even more difficult to understand is the fact that two years ago HMPPS put the prison into what it described as ‘special measures’.

“I have examined the ‘Improving Lewes (Special Measures) Action Plan’ agreed with senior HMPPS management in August 2018. However, of the 45 action points in the plan, 39 had not been completed and the majority were described as requiring ‘major development’.”

There were, Mr Clarke added, over 50 references to reviewing activity in the plan, “but a noticeable dearth of hard targets.

“The results of this inspection clearly showed that, far from delivering better outcomes, two years of ‘special measures’ had coincided with a serious decline in performance.”

Mr Clarke warned that unless HMP Lewes had strong leadership and a realistic action plan focused on delivering clear, measurable outcomes, it was highly likely that the use of the HMI Prisons Urgent Notification procedure would have to be considered at some point. Inspectors at Lewes found:

  •  Safety – Since the last inspection there had been five self-inflicted deaths, and incidents of self-harm had tripled but there had been an inadequate response to recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). While levels of violence were broadly similar to 2016, assaults against staff had risen and a quarter of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. One fifth of assaults were serious. Illicit drugs undoubtedly sat behind much of the violence. Despite this, devices to detect contraband and drugs had not been working since April 2018. Mr Clarke said: “I was told this was because of ‘procurement’ difficulties. If ‘special measures’ was intended to help the prison overcome this type of bureaucratic obstacle, it had failed.”
  • Respect – Seventy-eight per cent of prisoners said staff treated them with respect and the atmosphere was reasonably calm. “This was an unusually high figure for this type of prison, and added weight to the notion that the problems at Lewes were not insoluble, but did require significant management intervention.” There were “very real weaknesses” in health care in the prison.
  • Purposeful activity – Ofsted inspectors found “no clear strategy” for the delivery of learning and skills, and allocation to activities appeared to be a matter of luck. While time out of cell was good for those attending activities, it was not so good for those not attending, and inspectors found 40% of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day.
  • Rehabilitation and release planning – A lack of leadership meant that there was weak strategic management, and the reducing reoffending strategy was out of date.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“This was a very disappointing inspection… The detail contained in this report brings into question the utility of ‘special measures’, if a prison can decline so badly when supposedly benefitting from them for a full two years. It also validates the Inspectorate’s new Independent Reviews of Progress, which are specifically designed to give ministers a report of progress against previous inspection reports at struggling prisons such as Lewes. A new governor had taken up post shortly before this inspection, and she will need support from her own management team and from more senior levels in HMPPS if the decline at HMP Lewes is to be arrested and reversed.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“After the previous inspection in January 2016, the staffing position at Lewes deteriorated and there were a number of disturbances. The prison clearly needed central support to tackle the challenges they faced. In January 2017, it was placed into special measures – a process that has successfully supported improvement at other prisons. Staff from other establishments supported the prison, and although there has been progress in some areas, it has not been as swift or as comprehensive as we would have hoped. Better recruitment meant we were fully staffed in 2018 which has helped to halt the decline. As noted by the inspectorate, assaults have fallen and self-harm has started to reduce too. Safety is the Governor’s clear priority. We are providing extra support from our central safety team to drive further improvements, and the prison has introduced x-ray scanners and netting to combat drugs. The establishment is well-placed to make further progress and will focus on the Inspectorate’s recommendations to do so.”

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook the definitive 1,600 page annual guide to the prison system of England and Wales ( the 2019 edition of which published in July 2019) writes:

The evidence is now compelling that the well-intended theory of Special Measures needs to be revisited – it has a habit making things worse not better..
The table below shows those prisons that, as of March 2019, are currently in Special Measures and the dates on which they were placed there.
It is salient to note from this table that three of the four prisons that were subsequently the subject of Urgent Notifications all began by being placed into Special Measures – Nottingham, Bedford and Exeter – and according to the Chief Inspector, Lewes Prison is heading the same way.
Piecemeal attempts to fix individual prisons by Special Measures is failing, that much is obvious.
Recommendations that are vital to progress and success are not being implemented, this isn’t due to a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude by prison governors and staff, it is due to the fact that we demand too much of them by way of delivery, with a timescale too often completely unrealistic and  an expectation that they can do it all with a handful of staff and a budget of tuppence ha’penny; they’re Managers, not Magicians. 
What we need is a back-to-the-drawing board approach with our prisons, one that starts with defining exactly what it is we want our prisons to deliver in terms of punishment, deterrence, reform and victim care – and vitally one that then not only identifies the resources needed to deliver it but one that also provides those resources, and then ring-fences them too.

Prisons in Special Measures as of March 2019

You can read a copy of this shocking report, published on 14 May 2019, here: https://www.prisons.org.uk/Lewes2019.pdf

Facts:  HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.

HMP Lewes is a medium-sized category B local prison. At the time of this inspection it held around 580 male prisoners, both sentenced and on remand. The prison was last inspected in January 2016. On that occasion we found it to be reasonably good in the areas of respect and resettlement, and not sufficiently good in the areas of safety and purposeful activity. HMP Lewes was built in 1853 as the county prison for Sussex. It has a semi-radial design and is half a mile from the town centre of Lewes. In 2007, a new house block was completed, which created 174 places in two attached wings, plus a new workshop, gym, visits hall, multi-faith centre and several new classrooms. F wing was refurbished in 2012.

Notable features from this inspection: 26% of prisoners were unsentenced; 201 prisoners presented a high or very high risk of harm; the prison held 85 prisoners who were on the sex offenders register; 54% of prisoners were category C.

This unannounced inspection took place between 14 and 25 January 2019.

Why Failure Must Be Explained

By Mark Leech

Yesterday I was taken to task for not being positive enough when I wrote about HMP Garth where, following (unusually) an announced HMIP inspection, it was revealed the prison had high levels of drugs and violence, where in terms of the four Healthy Prison Tests, safety had crept up from 1/4 to 2/4, respect from 2/4 to 3/4 and both purposeful activity and release planning had stalled at 3/4 since the last inspection two years ago.

It was said that I did not give enough credit where it was due.

Well that is certainly one view and one with some value to it, but on the other side of the coin Garth was also a prison where 56% of all the HMIP recommendations made and accepted by the prison two years previously had not been achieved at all.

Its really important that staff are given credit for progress, but those same staff also need to be able to take reality on the chin too – once we start to view a 56% failure rate on implementation as something to be proud of, something for which to quote one member of staff at Garth they should be given a ‘pat on the back’ for, then there is a real danger in my view that we are celebrating failure not success.

Mistaking failure for progress just skews reality; implementing 75% or 80% of HMI recommendations deserves praise, but when that drops to less than half, to just 44% that ought to be viewed as a cause for concern not credit – or the danger is that it becomes accepted as normalised and that must never be the case.

Personally I would like to see every Governor who has failed to implement 50% or more of HMI recommendations being required to publicly explain to the Prisons Inspectorate, in a written document that appears in an Annex to the Report, exactly why in two years they have been unable to do better.

There are two sides to every story and one story is only good until another one is told – if nothing else if provides an opportunity to explain the reasons why more progress wasn’t made and I imagine some would be surprised at the reasons given which currently remain hidden from view.

If the Justice Secretary has to explain publicly what has gone wrong and what he will do to put it right when faced with an HMI Urgent Notification, the same principle of accountability should apply to Governing Governors too: they too have their story to tell – and they ought to be allowed to tell it.

The buck stops on their desk and with it credit for success and responsibility for failure too.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales @prisonsorguk

HMP GARTH – high levels of violence and a daunting drugs problem found at this announced inspection

Published 9th May 2019
Leaders and staff at HMP Garth, a training prison in Lancashire, were commended for their work to reduce drugs and violence since inspectors found it in 2017 to be one of the most unsafe they had seen.

  • Note: For this Inspection, unusually, the prison had been given prior warning of the Inspection and had the been able to prepare for it in advance.

HMP Garth opened in 1988. A category B men’s establishment, it is part of the newly formed long-term and high-security estate directorate, holding a complex population. The population was predominantly made up of convicted adults serving more than four years and those serving indeterminate sentences. In addition to the mainstream residential accommodation, the prison had a number of specialist units: The Beacon Unit, offering the offender personality disorder pathway service; The Building Hope Unit, a psychologically informed therapeutic environment; a substance misuse therapeutic community and a residential support unit.

Almost all prisoners in HMP Garth were serving prison sentences of longer than 10 years and 89% presented a high risk of harm to others. Sixty-three per cent of prisoners had been convicted of serious violent offences and almost a quarter had been convicted of sexual offences. Just over a third of prisoners were serving an indeterminate sentence. In our survey, 60% of prisoners said it was easy to get hold of illicit drugs, and about one in four said they had developed a drug problem while being at HMP Garth. HMP Garth had a nationally resourced offender personality disorder pathway (OPDP) service operating from The Beacon Unit.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said: “It is pleasing to be able to report that in the space of two years [since January 2017] there had been significant improvements at the prison.

  • High levels of violence but slowing

“Although there was still too much violence, it had not risen in line with the overall trend across the prison estate, and credit is due to the staff at Garth for working hard to understand and contain it. There is absolutely no room for complacency, but there were some early encouraging signs of improvement.

  • Drugs: the scale of this problem was daunting

“As with many other prisons, the ready availability of illicit drugs drove much of the violence, and the scale of the challenge in this respect at Garth was daunting. Sixty per cent of prisoners told us it was easy to obtain drugs, 30% were testing positive for drugs and around a quarter had developed a drug habit since entering the prison.” Drugs and violence reduction strategies must be kept under constant review to maintain the progress.

  • Long-term, high risk population,

Garth held just over 800 prisoners, the vast majority serving sentences of more than 10 years and presenting a high risk of harm. Around two-thirds had been convicted of serious violence and a quarter were convicted of sexual offences.

  • Slight improvements in safety and respect

The poor safety assessment in 2017, in a jail in which drugs and violence then dominated the men’s lives, led inspectors to make it subject to one of only a handful of announced inspections. By late 2018, safety had risen from a poor assessment to not sufficiently good. Respect rose to reasonably good and purposeful activity and rehabilitation and resettlement remained at that level.

Mr Clarke said: “My confidence that the prison can continue to make progress was strengthened by what I saw and heard during my meeting with the senior management team. It was very clear to me that they worked together in a highly collaborative way to address the serious challenges faced by the establishment.

Members of the team, from whatever specialised function, were eager to contribute to what their colleagues were trying to achieve in their particular areas of responsibility. It was heartening to see this approach and to experience the obvious enthusiasm.”

  • Serious concerns about cancelled hospital appointments and Public Protection

Although the assessment of respect had improved, there was serious concern about the high cancellation rate for external hospital appointments. Inspectors were also concerned about some weaknesses in managing the potential risks to the public posed by those few prisoners who were released from Garth.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“The leadership of HMP Garth were keen to point out to me that there were early signs of improvement, and it was to their credit that what had been achieved was sufficient to raise our assessments in two of our healthy prison tests. Given the overall context in which establishments such as Garth have been operating over the past few years, this is an achievement that should not be underestimated.

For the future, dealing with the twin scourges of drugs and violence will be the key to making further progress, and I hope that when we next inspect HMP Garth we will be able to report that the momentum we saw on this occasion will have been maintained.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“It is extremely encouraging to see significant progress being made at HMP Garth, and I echo the Chief Inspector’s confidence that the hard work of the prison officers in the establishment will maintain this going forward. The prison continues to tackle drugs and violence head on, ensuring that prisoners can focus on rehabilitation, and I’m delighted to see that their efforts are leading to real improvements.”

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

I’m the first to give governors and staff a pat on the back for progress, encouragement is vital, but so too is reality.

To talk about ‘commendable improvements’ in a prison that still has serious problems with drugs and violence, where self-harm is very high and where less than half of the safety recommendations  made two years ago have still not been implemented, to me is is premature and to value its progress too highly.

Inspectors said:

“At the last inspection in 2017 we found that outcomes for prisoners in Garth were poor against this [Safety] healthy prison test. We made 13 recommendations in the area of safety. At this inspection we found that six of the recommendations had been achieved and seven had not been achieved.”

This was an average report, and I would have expected more progress given that the prison knew of the Inspection months in advance and were able to prepare for it – the fact that they could not do better suggests the prison is fighting a losing losing battle on a number of serious fronts.”

Read the Report 

@prisonsorg.uk

HMP ONLEY: A chaotic, fundamentally unsafe, prison locked in a battle with drugs and violence.

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“This is a truly shocking report of a prison in complete chaos and in danger of flipping into self-destruct – the lack of Urgent Notification from the Prisons Inspectorate is frankly bewildering.”
Mark Leech

UPDATE:  Mark Leech: Following publication of this post today, and my comments at the bottom of it, I received a juvenile email from the Chief Communications Officer at The Prisons Inspectorate – you can read it, and my reply, here


HMP Onley, a training prison in Warwickshire with 80% of its population from London, is “fundamentally unsafe” with high levels of drugs and violence.

When the Prisons Inspectorate last inspected HMP Onley in 2016 they made 70 recommendations overall. The prison fully accepted 53 of the recommendations and partially (or subject to resources) accepted 16. It rejected one of the recommendations.

At this follow-up inspection in November 2018 – two years later – the Prison Inspectorate found that the prison had achieved 24 of those recommendations, and not achieved 46 recommendations.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had been assessed as ‘poor’ for safety – the lowest assessment – at the previous inspection in 2016.

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When inspectors visited in November 2018, Mr Clarke added, it was “particularly disappointing” to find Onley was still fundamentally unsafe.   “Time and again we find that prisons which are unsafe will struggle to make progress in other areas, and HMP Onley was no exception.”

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The lack of safety was “all too obvious”. The report noted that the reception wing was chaotic and “new arrivals, still carrying their property and stood in the busy corridor, were approached and faced predation by more experienced prisoners.”

 Mr Clarke added: “Perhaps it is not surprising that in our survey only 62% of prisoners said they felt safe on the first night. Sadly, their feelings were an all too accurate reflection of what life in Onley would be like during their time there.”

The prevalence of illicit drugs played a major role in causing destabilising factors such as violence, debt, bullying and health emergencies. During the previous three months there had been 200 emergency health calls related to the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Despite this, we found that far too little was being done to obstruct the flow of drugs into the jail.”

Violence was higher than at similar category C prisons and although prisoner-on-prisoner assaults had decreased since 2016, assaults on staff had more than doubled. Far too many prisoners were self-isolating – refusing to come out of their cells or to go to education, work and training. The prison believed much of the violence was gang-related.

Mr Clarke said: “HMP Onley was a clear example of where the failure to deal with drugs and violence undermined many other aspects of prison life. There was a vicious circle where fear, frustration and boredom increased the demand for drugs, which in turn fuelled the violence.

“In order for Onley to break out of this circle, there must obviously be more effective action taken to reduce violence and the availability of drugs. But at the same time, more can be done in other areas.”

Rubbish was consistently thrown from cells windows and, the report noted, “there were problems with rats, and recent attempts to control the infestation had left some dying in wall cavities and vents, leaving an intolerable smell in some cells.” Accommodation on Onley’s newer wings was better than on its “shabby, cramped” older wings.

Onley was a training prison without enough activity places for the population, and during the inspection only 50% of prisoners were engaged in purposeful activity at any one time. Some 39% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day – far too high a proportion for a training prison. Extensive PE facilities were underused by the prison population, which was predominantly young, with around 60% from a black and minority ethnic background.

Inspectors noted that the prison had run a restricted daily regime for more than four years because of chronic staff shortages, though this was gradually being addressed.

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Mr Clarke said: “There can also be little doubt that doing more to support family relationships would help prisoners rehabilitate and prepare for their eventual release.” The report noted that Onley was in a remote location but there was no transport for families from local stations.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“I would not wish to detract from the many good things being delivered by dedicated and skilful staff. Health care, education, training, industry and offender management leading to release were all areas where there was some very good provision. Sadly, Onley will fail to fulfil its role as a training and resettlement prison until it can deal with the inextricably linked blights of drugs and violence.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“Tackling drugs and violence at Onley is our top priority and, while challenging, significant efforts have been made to drive improvement. These have included a major recruitment drive, with 30% more officers soon to be in place compared to 2018, along with additional security measures such as mail scanners, while a new drug recovery unit is due to open this spring. As the Chief Inspector makes clear, despite the difficulties there is good work going on at Onley to help prisoners turn their lives around and reduce the risk of reoffending on release.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the report showed “a prison in complete chaos”.

Mr Leech writes:

This is a truly shocking report of a prison in complete chaos and in danger of flipping into self-destruct – the lack of Urgent Notification from the Prisons Inspectorate at Onley is frankly bewildering.

Onley is a fundamentally unsafe prison, previous recommendations on safety, decency, and respect have been ignored wholescale.

Drugs and violence have taken control, and Onley ticks all the Urgent Notification boxes – yet the Prisons Inspectorate has failed yet again to activate a procedure designed for exactly these kind of situations.

I have heard it suggested elsewhere that political pressure was placed on the Prisons Inspectorate to ‘give it a rest’ and not to activate the Urgent Notification procedure ‘for a while’, after four in a row were bowled stump high at the Justice Secretary last year – true or not, if Onley doesn’t meet the test for the Urgent Notification procedure, then I’d like someone to tell me exactly what does.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales
@prisonsorguk

HMP/YOI Stoke Heath: Safe and ordered prison, but poor purposeful activity – told to get more prisoners into work, training and education

HMP//YOI Stoke Heath, a training and resettlement prison holding up to 782 male prisoners in rural Shropshire, was found by inspectors to be “overwhelmingly safe.”

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the 2015 inspection of the jail had found reasonably good outcomes – the second highest assessment – against all four HMI Prisons tests of a healthy prison.

“At this inspection (in November 2018) we were pleased to find a very similar picture, despite some deterioration in the provision of purposeful activity.”

The prison remained “overwhelmingly safe”. Violence, unlike at many other prisons, had not increased since 2015, with an encouraging decrease since the summer of 2018 following a spike earlier in the year.

“Work to address violence and incentivise prisoners was reasonably good and, overall, we found a prison that was ordered and under control,” Mr Clarke added. However, use of force by staff had increased, and was high, and more needed to be done to ensure “comprehensive governance and accountability” of its use.

Inspectors found strong work to tackle drugs. The report noted that the management “made effective use of electronic security aids, including equipment to identify illicit items such as mobile phones, drugs and weapons.”

“At the time of inspection, prisoners were receiving photocopies of their domestic mail rather than the original letters sent in. Managers explained that this was in response to credible intelligence that some mail coming into the prison had been impregnated with a new psychoactive substance (NPS).” The prison planned to stop the restriction when it had scanner to detect the drugs without photocopying. Guidance for the local community to spot potential drugs-related suspicious activity was commended as good practice.

Inspectors were concerned about the prison’s response to self-harm, which had risen sharply. While prisoners in crisis said they felt well cared for, they were often left locked up for extended periods. Prisoners generally, though, expressed “real confidence” in the staff, who they saw as being in control and work to introduce a key worker scheme and an ‘active citizenship’ initiative were well advanced. Many cells, however, were very small and cramped.

A major weakness of the prison was the number of prisoners – about a third – who were inactive and locked up during the working day and there was insufficient activity for the whole population. However, achievement rates for those who attended education, vocational training or work were generally good. Rehabilitation and release planning remained reasonably good overall, thought assessments and risk management plans could improve.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Stoke Heath has benefited from stable and competent leadership that has attended to trying to get the basics right. This is not to argue that there aren’t further improvements that can be made – there are many. But Stoke Heath was dealing with the same risks and challenges that other less successful training prisons face and yet it remained a largely well-ordered place where the prisoners, for the most part, trusted the staff. Good work was being done to confront the scourge of drugs and violence. The challenge going forward is to maintain these successes and build on them in a way that also integrates improvements to the prison’s regime and resettlement offer.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“Stoke Heath provides a safe and respectful regime which gives positive opportunities for prisoners to turn their lives around. As the Chief Inspector makes clear, Stoke Heath is a good prison and, whilst there is more to do to improve purposeful activity, the Governor and staff deserve credit for their achievements in a challenging operational environment”.

A copy of the full report, published on 19 March 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

HMP Channings Wood: Stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

HMP Channings Wood, a training and resettlement prison near Newton Abbott in Devon, was found by inspectors to present “a very mixed picture”, with stark contrasts in conditions between different parts of the jail.

Overall, the prison had not changed since the last inspection, in 2016. All four ‘healthy prison tests’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning – were assessed again as being not sufficiently good, the second lowest assessment.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison environment reflected stark contrasts. “Much of the accommodation was of a good standard and prisoners appreciated their access to the pleasant surrounding grounds. On three units, however, in our view, failures of leadership had led to some very poor standards with prisoners living in often bleak and dirty cells.”

There had been efforts to improve safety at the prison, which held up to 724 men, but these were often uncoordinated, which undermined their effectiveness. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners had felt unsafe in the prison at some point, with a third still feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection.

Violence was rising but inspectors were concerned about the prison’s efforts to tackle it. The report noted: “Levels of violence had increased and were high. Although reported data were comparable to other category C prisons, we also found evidence of significant under-reporting that managers were aware of but had not yet addressed.”

“We were not assured,” Mr Clarke added, “that that the well-being of vulnerable prisoners was always sufficiently safeguarded and the prison lacked a coordinated approach to the reduction of violence linked to the problem of drugs.”

Over three-quarters of prisoners thought illicit drugs were easy to access.  “Inadequate supervision of prisoners, for example, meant there were repeated opportunities for drug misuse and associated violence.” Since the last inspection two prisoners had taken their own lives and the number of self-harm incidents had doubled.

Work to promote equality had deteriorated since 2016, though, more positively, most prisoners felt respected by staff and indicated that they knew who to turn to for help. Here, again, however, inspectors observed “variability and polarisation.”

“We saw much positive work being undertaken by staff of all disciplines working appropriately to set and maintain standards. On the poorer wings, in contrast, we found staff congregating in offices, failing to set standards or maintain supportive living conditions and failing to challenge delinquent behaviour on the part of prisoners.” Inspectors noted that the significant number of newer, less experienced officers needed greater support.

However, more positively, prisoners had reasonable access to time out of cell. The prison had sufficient full-time activity places for most men but the management of attendance and punctuality was poor and quality of teaching, learning and assessment required improvement. Public protection measures, as well as release and resettlement planning, were weak and inconsistent.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Inconsistency of outcomes was a recurrent theme of our findings at this inspection. This was best exemplified in varying standards being accepted across the different accommodation wings, but also in the way initiatives to bring about improvement were often implemented in a partial or uncoordinated way. Managers were enthusiastic and open about making progress, but optimism and energy needed to be harnessed in a way that ensured leaders at all levels were visible, demanding consistent standards, and ensuring improvement was embedded and sustainable.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“We recognise the need to achieve greater consistency in order to improve standards across the prison, which is the Governor’s priority. But I am pleased that the Inspectorate acknowledge a range of positive work being undertaken by staff at all levels at Channings Wood. An additional 22

officers have now been recruited to provide key workers for every prisoner, and we have increased resources to improve safety and accommodation conditions.”

Read the Report: https://www.prisons.org.uk/ChanningsWood022019.pdf

The Prisons Inspectorate ‘Urgent Notification Protocol’: Does It Work?

By Mark Leech FRSA. Editor: The Prisons Handbook.

NINE MONTHS AFTER THE FIRST URGENT NOTIFICATION WAS ISSUED BY THE CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PRISONS, IT IS TIME TO LOOK AND SEE IF IT WORKS.

Like many who know a thing or two about prisons I was really encouraged last November when HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP), Peter Clarke, announced details of the ‘Urgent Notification Protocol’ (UNP) he had signed with the Justice Secretary.

Privately, while praying it would work, I was also cynically sceptical; it happens after 20 years in this field – and its healthy too.

The UNP allowed HMCIP to give the Justice Secretary urgent notification of significant concerns with regard to the treatment and conditions of those detained’ in establishments the Inspectorate had visited.

More than that, in a break with tradition, the urgent notification was itself to be made public by HMCIP – and the Justice Secretary agreed to reply publicly too, within 28 days, by setting out an Action Plan bringing focus and delivering resources to what urgently needed to be put right.

No other Chief Inspector of Prisons had ever managed to achieve anything like the degree of public accountability the UNP promised from a Justice Secretary; but could it really work in practice?

It seemed a tall order, time would tell, and as it turned out I didn’t have long to wait.

On 17th January 2018, six weeks after the UNP was agreed, HMCIP signed the first urgent notification in respect of appalling conditions he found at HMP Nottingham.

Peter Clarke wrote:

“The principal reason I have decided to issue an Urgent Notification in respect of HMP Nottingham following this most recent inspection is because for the third time in a row HMI Prisons has found the prison to be fundamentally unsafe.

“Most seriously, in the two years since our last inspection, levels of self-harm have risen very significantly and eight prisoners are understood to have taken their own lives (some cases are still subject to a coroner’s inquest). Despite these shocking facts, there have been repeated failures to achieve or embed improvements following previous recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO).

“Irrefutable evidence of the failure to respond to HMI Prisons’ inspection findings at Nottingham can be seen not only in the gradings given as a result of the latest inspection, but also in the progress made in implementing previous recommendations.

“Following the February 2016 inspection we made a total of 48 recommendations, 13 of which were in the crucial area of Safety. Of those 13, a mere 2 had been fully achieved, and 2 partially achieved. Overall, 12 of the 48 recommendations were fully achieved, 23 were not achieved and 13 partially achieved.

“As the last two inspections have been announced in advance, to give the prison the opportunity to focus on the areas where improvement was urgently needed before the inspections took place, it is extraordinary that there has not been a more robust response. An action plan was drawn up to guide the implementation of recommendations, but has obviously not received consistent focused attention nor close monitoring from HMPPS senior leadership.”

True to his word the Justice Secretary prepared an Action Plan, with specific time deadlines by which improvements at HMP Nottingham had to be made – but Clarke wasn’t finished yet.

In May 2018, while the Action Plan at Nottingham was underway, the Chief Inspector fired off his second incendiary urgent notification – which this time landed squarely on HMP Exeter.

Peter Clarke wrote:

“The principal reasons I have decided to invoke the UN protocol in respect of HMP Exeter following this most recent inspection are because since the last full inspection in August 2016, safety in the prison has significantly worsened in many respects, and has attracted our lowest possible grading of ‘poor’.

“There have been six self inflicted deaths, five of which were in 2017.

“Despite some creditable efforts to implement recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following those deaths, the overall level of safety at HMP Exeter is unequivocally poor.

“Self harm during the past six months is running at a higher rate than in any similar prisons. It has risen by 40% since the last inspection. Assaults against both prisoners and staff are among the highest we have seen, and the use of force by staff is inadequately governed.

“Meanwhile, illicit drugs are rife in the prison, nearly a quarter of prisoners are testing positive, and all this is taking place in a prison where the living conditions for too many are unacceptably poor.

“During the inspection we saw many examples of a lack of care for vulnerable prisoners which, given the recent tragic events in the prison, were symptomatic of a lack of empathy and understanding of the factors that contribute to suicide and self harm.”

Again the Justice Secretary responded with an Action Plan with time deadlines for improvements to be made. It was while David Gauke was reeling from both the Nottingham and Exeter notifications that, in August 2018, the Chief Inspector bowled his most devastating urgent notification at the Justice Secretary stump high – this time about HMP Birmingham.

Peter Clarke wrote witheringly:

“The first priority of any prison should be to keep those who are held or work there safe. In this regard, HMP Birmingham had completely failed.

“Levels of violence had increased and, when measured over the last 12 months, were the highest for any local prison in the country. Many of the assaults were serious and the number was rising. Prisoners and staff frequently required hospital treatment.

“In our survey, 71% of prisoners told us they had felt unsafe at some time in Birmingham, an extraordinarily high figure.

“Thirty-seven per cent felt unsafe at the time of the inspection and many reported being bullied and victimised by other prisoners. The prison’s response to this was wholly inadequate.

“Most violent incidents were not investigated. There was inadequate analysis or understanding of the violence. In short, the prison’s strategy for confronting violence was completely ineffective. It did not, for example, even address the potential impact that the widespread availability of drugs had on the violence.”

The Justice Secretary’s response and publication of the Action Plan for Birmingham prison are due imminently as I write this, but it was immediately apparent how seriously the Ministry of Justice took the urgent notification on Birmingham because for only the second time since prison privatisation came to the UK almost 30 years ago, the Government stepped in, removed the private prisons contractor (G4S) and put in place a public sector Governing Governor to restore order.

[As an aside, this weekend, in our national prisons monthly newspaper Converse, we publish a powerful article by the only other Governing Governor ever to ‘step in’ to a private prison after it had been taken back into public sector control – an article in which the difficulties and dangers of such a task are laid bare.]

How did we get here, how could these prisons have failed so seriously – and would this UNP even work?

How did we get here lol?

In a word: ignorance.

It was almost exactly a year ago now, following a damning prisons Inspectorate report on HMYOI Aylesbury that revealed of the 74 recommendations made to improve conditions at the prison two years before, only 14 had actually been implemented, that I decided to delve a little deeper into the effectiveness of the Prisons Inspectorate.

The research I carried out (published in The Independent) showed that of over 1,800 recommendations the Inspectorate made to improve safety and conditions last time they visited the 28 prisons they had inspected in the year to August 2017 – well over 60% of those recommendations had never been implemented, despite three and five years that had passed between those inspections having taken place.

No-one, from the very top down, batted an eyelid at the shameful implementation figures; ignoring HMIP recommendations had become dangerously routine and where, as a consequence, little if anything changed.

The Chief Inspector continued to tour the country finding exactly the same failings, in exactly the same prisons, and where he was ignored in exactly the same way, time after time.

I wrote at the time that what we needed was a Prisons Inspectorate that was ‘bold and forceful, one that publicly held Ministers to account’ or what, I asked, was the point of it all?

It would be wrong of me to imply my Independent article was responsible for the UNP that was signed three months after my article appeared, HMCIP had himself been privately complaining bitterly that his recommendations were being ignored, but if nothing else the Urgent Notification Protocol that followed it was a welcome by-product.

But does the UNP work?

On 14th August 2018, I submitted a FOIA request to the MOJ, looking at the Action Plans devised after the Urgent Notifications at HMP Nottingham and HMP Exeter. I asked whether the timescales for completion of all the remedial tasks set out in the Plans had been met.

I was both relieved and pleasantly surprised to learn that although there had been a time slippage of a couple of weeks on one or two tasks, the action plan tasks at both Nottingham and Exeter had all been completed – you can view the full request and response at the bottom of this editorial.

Without doubt the UNP is a massive professional accomplishment for Peter Clarke, one the prison system will derive benefits from for years to come, and one in which he has succeeded where so many others before him have failed.

But equally Clarke still has much more to do – ridding the Inspectorate of their ridiculous ‘partially achieved’ assessments would be a good start.

Instead of just assessing whether a previous HMIP recommendation has been achieved or not, HMCIP allows Inspectors – without any guiding criteria at all – to mark them as ‘partially achieved’; but what on earth does that even mean?

I asked the Chief Inspector to explain – he couldn’t do so – and its also unclear where ‘partially achieved’ even comes from; the words don’t appear once in the whole of the Expectations documentation that underpins all inspections.

But that is something for the future, right now the danger is that with the passage of time an ‘urgent notification’ will cease to have its current media effect – and with it, the political resolve to put things right.

Do things really have to reach the dreadful, dangerous, demeaning Dickensian conditions found at Nottingham, Exeter and Birmingham before the MOJ swings into action?

Surely not.

The lesson (and the danger) of the UNP though is an old one: a stitch in time saves nine.

Unless we view every single recommendation of HMCIP, in all of their Inspection Reports, as an ‘urgent notification’ about which action needs to be taken, then the danger is the ‘urgent notifications’ will become less urgent as they become increasingly frequent – and as quantity increases quality and effect inevitably decline.

For the moment, however, we can be content to know that it is working as it should – but that must not stop the huge underlying mindset change that is needed in our prison system, if ever urgent notifications are to be the isolated examples they were designed to be, rather than the tip of an iceberg that they seemingly currently appear to represent.

You can view the FOI request and response here.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales and other books about the prison system. Twitter @prisonsorguk. Download our App!

HMP Belmarsh – Encouraging trial of body scanner to prevent smuggling of drugs and contraband

An X-ray body scanner being piloted at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London resulted in the discovery of weapons, mobile phones and drugs on prisoners and contributed toward a reduction in drugs-fuelled violence, prisons inspectors found.

Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said an inspection of Belmarsh, one of the UK’s most high-profile prisons, in January and February 2018, noted that incidents of violence had increased since the previous inspection in 2015, and some were serious.

“However, in some important respects, the increase was not as significant as in many other local prisons. The overall level of security at the prison had helped, and the use of illegal drugs was less of a problem than we might have expected.”

Technology, Mr Clarke added, “was being used to support efforts to manage violence and drug use at the prison, for example through the body scanner being piloted in reception. Early results were encouraging, and I was told that staff welcomed the initiative, as did many prisoners who wanted to see the disruptive and dangerous trade in contraband disrupted.”

The report noted: “Staff were trialling a new body scanner in reception, which used low-level X-rays to identify prisoners concealing unauthorised articles. It had resulted in some finds of mobile phones, weapons and drugs, which would not have been identified during a strip-search. The initiative was encouraging and promoted respect and decency – the dedicated search team had decided to use the body scanner instead of requiring prisoners to squat routinely during strip-searches.”

HMP Belmarsh is one of only three high-security local prisons in England and Wales and holds an “extremely complex mix of men”, including young adults and low-risk men, over 100 with an indeterminate sentence, and those in custody for the most serious offences. The high security unit (HSU), “in effect a prison within a prison”, holds some of the highest-risk prisoners in the country. There are also a large number of foreign national prisoners and some with a high media or public profile.

Inspectors, in 2018, found the prison faced several new challenges compared with 2015, some of which were outside the governor’s direct control. For instance, “there was a significant shortage of frontline staff.” This was being addressed, Mr Clarke said, “but (it) had resulted in a severely depleted daily regime and regular redeployment of specialist staff to ensure that even a basic period of daily unlocking time could be given.” This was detrimental to the area of purposeful activity, one of the Inspectorate’s key ‘healthy prison’ tests covering training and education. Time out of cells for prisoners had “declined significantly” since 2015. The funding for education and training was also found to be insufficient and meant the prison could not meet all prisoners’ needs.

Inspectors found “some good work” to identify men who were vulnerable, including those at risk of self-harm. Some men at Belmarsh had “a combination of mental health issues, personality disorders and very challenging behaviour” and “it was encouraging to be told that the high security and long-term directorate (of HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)) was reviewing how these men were being managed and considering what improvements could be made.”

Inspectors, however, were concerned by some of the accommodation, with cases of “claustrophobic and extremely uncomfortable” cells designed for two but holding three men. Mr Clarke said: “We thought that this practice should stop, and that the prison’s operational capacity should be reduced to achieve this.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“In most respects, the prison continued to do a reasonable job managing an extremely complex population. However, some factors outside the control of the local management team were having a negative impact and we would urge HMPPS to give the prison the support it needs to deliver more consistently positive outcomes for its prisoners. At the last inspection, we warned that while we had seen a number of improvements, many had not been embedded. At this inspection, progress had stalled in some of these areas… The influx of new staff offers real opportunities to address these deficits, but in such a complex prison they will need to be supported and mentored to ensure they become the high-quality colleagues that the current leadership clearly want them to be.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“HMP Belmarsh staff continue to manage a complex population with skill and professionalism. A successful recruitment campaign means that staffing vacancies are being filled and staff will receive the support they need to take the prison forward. The good work to tackle drugs is particularly encouraging and we will use learning from this to strengthen our drugs strategy across other prisons.”

A copy of the full report, published on 12 June 2018, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website here: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons