HMP BRISTOL – ‘Get a Grip’ Prisons Inspectorate tells HMPPS

The Prison Service must grip and support HMP Bristol to improve after years of decline and “seemingly intractable failure”, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Mr Clarke published a full report on an inspection of HMP Bristol in May and June 2019 which, at the time, identified such serious problems that the Chief Inspector invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) process. Under the UN protocol, the Secretary of State must respond within 28 days, publicly, with plans to improve the jail.

Bristol has declined over four inspections since 2013 (see ‘Facts’ below), with safety assessed as poor, the lowest grading, in 2017 and 2019.

Mr Clarke said he had expressed some optimism at the time of the 2017 inspection that the prison might improve. However, “despite subsequent important initiatives within the prison (including the recruitment of many staff, some new investment and the designation of Bristol by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) as a prison under ‘special measures’, at this (2019) inspection we were again unable to report on any significant improvement to overall outcomes.

“We last reported more positively about this prison some nine years ago in 2010, but since then… it has been a record of seemingly intractable failure. The report, similarly to the UN letter in June 2019, sets out disturbing findings:

  • High levels of violence against prisoners and staff, some serious, and high use of force by staff (though body-worn camera footage showed de-escalation of incidents by staff.) Many prisoners felt unsafe.
  • Many prisoners spent too long locked up during the working day.
  • Around 40% of cells were designed for one prisoner but held two, affecting 260 men in bleak and “unacceptably cramped” conditions.
  • Poor conditions heightened the risk for men in crisis. Self-harm levels were high. The number of assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management documents opened for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm was extraordinarily high, and was unmanageable.
  • The safer custody hotline, for friends and family to raise concerns, was not checked and prisoners had been unable to call the Samaritans from their cells for several weeks before the inspection.
  • Nearly half of prisoners were released homeless or into temporary accommodation.

Inspectors found, though, that the prison had enjoyed some success in tackling drugs.

Mr Clarke added: “Bristol may not have reached the extreme lack of order and crisis seen in some other prisons and this report acknowledges some developments and some improvements, but many initiatives were poorly coordinated, applied inconsistently or not well embedded.”

Repeated requests for the prison to provide the Inspectorate with meaningful objectives or an assessment of the impact of ‘special measures’ in driving improvement were unsuccessful. “We were left with little confidence that the prison had a coherent and robust plan to impact and improve outcomes meaningfully.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“In 2017 the cautious optimism to which I referred gave me grounds to think that the leadership at Bristol, supported regionally and nationally, might be able to make progress. The current reality however, shows this did not happen. I hope this report and the UN that preceded it constitute a timely reminder that HMP Bristol needs to be gripped and supported at all levels of management in HMPPS.”

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

“Since the Urgent Notification in June, we have taken swift action to improve conditions and the support available to prisoners at risk of self-harm. Extra training is being given to officers, and a new method for challenging poor behaviour has been introduced to tackle violence. Major refurbishment of one wing has been completed, a new education centre opened this week and further renovations are to come. Reducing violence, self-harm and drug use will remain top priorities, and the newly appointed Governor will receive my full support at Bristol.”

  • FACTS
  • The full report, published on 18 September 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons
  • HMP Bristol is a category B local and resettlement prison, holding male adult and young adult prisoners. At the time of this inspection 464 men were resident, a slightly reduced roll, caused by the temporary closure of the prison’s D wing for refurbishment. The prison was built in 1883. B and C wings were added in the 1960s.
  • HMP Bristol has declined over four inspections:
Healthy prison assessments since 2013
Safety Respect Purposeful activity Resettlement/rehabilitation and release planning
2019 1 2 1 2
2017 1 2 1 2
2014 2 2 2 2
2013 2 1 1 3
  • Notable features from this inspection: more than 10% of the population were subject to assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management procedures; around 40% of cells held more prisoners than they were designed for; about 20% of the population had been recalled to prison; 62% of prisoners said that they had felt unsafe at some time at the prison; 62% of prison officers were within their first two years of service; 19% of prisoners said that they had developed a drug problem at the prison; only about 25% of prisoners attended activities at any time; about 47% of prisoners were released homeless or into temporary accommodation.
  • This unannounced inspection took place between 20 May and 7 June 2019.

 

HMP FOREST BANK – Remains well-led, but violence has increased

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.”

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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 BERWYN – A good start for a new prison but some important weaknesses

HMP Berwyn, a large, two-year-old prison near Wrexham, was found in its first inspection to be generally ordered, with good living conditions, but with some key weaknesses.

Notable features from this inspection

  • Only a quarter of the population were Welsh.
  • The prison’s capacity was 2,106 prisoners but it held 1,273.
  • Just over three-quarters of the population were serving four years or more.
  • Almost half of prisoners said drugs were easily available.
  • Three-quarters of officers had been in service for less than two years and about a third for less than a year.
  • All cells had a shower, telephone and laptop computer.
  • Levels of self-harm were low for the type of prison.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that opening a new prison was a big challenge. “The prison opened with a very clear rehabilitative vision which has faced resistance at times. The leadership team are still working hard to find and maintain the right balance between rehabilitation and security, freedom and control, and sanctions and reward.

“Some mistakes have been made and we identify some important weaknesses, but we also acknowledge the great effort that has been made to give this prison a good start. The prison is generally ordered and settled, and… we found Berwyn to be a reasonably respectful place.” There was more to do, though, in the areas of safety, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning.

Though Berwyn is a Welsh prison, about 75% of those held in March 2019 were from England. Around 23% of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, a figure comparable with other training prisons. Assaults on prisoners were lower than in similar prisons, but the rate of assaults on staff was higher. There were signs, though, that both were gradually reducing.

Some work was being done to reduce violence but “delivery often lacked drive and needed to be implemented more effectively.” Inspectors found 25 self-isolating prisoners who were completely unsupported. Use of force by staff was higher than in similar prisons and incidents usually involved the full application of restraints. However, oversight was satisfactory.

Drugs had been too readily available, but actions by the prison to reduce drugs supply seemed to have had some impact, and the positive drug testing rate had reduced to 21.49%. This was, however, still too high and supply reduction initiatives required greater coordination and drive. Nearly half of prisoners said it was easy to get drugs and almost one in four said they had developed a drug problem while at the prison.

There had been no self-inflicted deaths since the prison opened and self-harm was comparatively low, but those at risk who inspectors spoke to did not feel well cared for.

Most staff at Berwyn were inexperienced and, though they were doing their best and contributing to a relaxed and positive atmosphere, many prisoners felt frustrated by staff inconsistency and uncertainty. Some poor behaviour went unchallenged.

The quality of accommodation and the general environment were very good, with in-cell showers, telephones and access to amenities.

Mr Clarke said: “The prison had been successful in its aim to make such a large prison feel small. There was a real sense of community in most of the wings.”

Employed prisoners had reasonable time out of cell, though it was much worse for those without employment, who had about two and a half hours a day. Inspectors found 28% of prisoners locked up during the working day, “which for a new training prison was very disappointing.”

One of the greatest challenges facing the prison was the lack of activity places. Mr Clarke said: “It is difficult to understand how and why the procurement of work and training places for a new prison could be so delayed. Facing a rising population and too few activity places, prison managers had created a range of activities and there were sufficient places for the current population, but some were of inadequate quality and lacked challenge. Even those that were available were not fully used. Many prisoners were unemployed or failed to attend, and staff did too little to support a sound work ethic.” Those attending education or vocational training, however, generally received excellent teaching, made useful progress and achieved well.

The prison was struggling to develop its approach to offender management and resettlement. The make-up of the population was not as had been originally envisaged. Many prisoners were serving long sentences and presented a high risk of harm. Too many prisoners did not have an up-to-date assessment of risk.

Offender management caseloads were too high and case management was inconsistent and reactive. Public protection measures were similarly weak and the prison lacked sufficient offending behaviour interventions to meet the needs of the population. Work to resettle prisoners was, however, better.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“We met many managers and staff who were working hard to make a success of this new prison. Senior managers described themselves as ‘being on a journey’ and we saw lots of work, many policies and numerous plans. What was needed was better oversight, better coordination and more sustained delivery. The staff seemed to us to be a strength of the prison, but they needed support in delivering the basics consistently. We thought the prison had made a good start. We were impressed by the energy and optimism we observed and there was clearly the potential to move on rapidly.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales described the report as ‘very positive’.

Mr Leech said: “Many people really underestimate what opening a new prison involves, a new establishment, with new processes, new staff, new prisoners – it can so easily go horribly wrong as we have seen in the past.

“This is a very positive report on Berwyn , it has some significant problems ahead, drugs are a major concern like in the majority of prisons, but it has a sound basis from which to move forward and I welcome this report.”

FACTS:

Task of the establishment: A category C training and resettlement establishment holding adult males.

Certified normal accommodation and operational capacity: Prisoners held at the time of inspection: 1,273. Baseline certified normal capacity: 2,106. In-use certified normal capacity: 1,584. Operational capacity: 1,300 (currently capped at this number while awaiting more staffing and provision).

Prison status (public or private) and key providers: Public
Physical health provider: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Mental health provider: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Substance misuse provider: Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
Learning and skills provider: Novus Cambria
Community rehabilitation company (CRC): Seetec Justice (Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC)
Escort contractor: GEOAmey
Prison group: North Wales

Brief history
In 2014, permission was granted for a prison to be built in Wrexham, and Berwyn opened on 27 February 2017. Built on a former Firestone Tyre site, Berwyn (when full) is the largest prison in England and Wales and the second largest in Europe.

Short description of residential units.
There are three houses. Alwen, Bala and Ceiriog, each divided into eight communities that can accommodate up to 88 general population residents, including the following. Alwen C Uppers life-sentenced/indeterminate sentence for public protection Alwen D Uppers enhanced life-sentenced Bala B Lowers healthy living Bala C Lowers Glyndŵr: progressive unit Bala D Lowers Gobaith: resettlement unit Bala B Uppers Menai: assisted living Bala C Uppers Shaun Stocker: veterans and first-timers Bala D Uppers improving family futures Ceiriog A Lowers Snowdon: mature residents Ceiriog D Lowers induction and first night unit. Ogwen care and support (segregation) unit (up to 21 prisoners)
Name of governor and date in post: Nick Leader (April 2019)
Independent Monitoring Board chair: Eileen Darbyshire
Date of last inspection: This was the prison’s first inspection.

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Annual Report 2018/2019 Prisons Inspectorate – Too Much Violence, Drugs & Inactivity In Prisons, But Independent Scrutiny Having More Impact

HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) generated new and unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in the scrutiny of prisons in England and Wales in 2018–19, according to HM Chief Inspector Peter Clarke.

Publishing his annual report, Mr Clarke made clear that robust independent scrutiny was vital after another deeply troubling year for some parts of the prison estate. Too many prisons continued to be plagued by drugs, violence, appalling living conditions and a lack of access to meaningful rehabilitative activity.

What goes on in prisons remained largely unseen by the public and the media.  However, in 2018–19 Mr Clarke used the Urgent Notification protocol – requiring the Secretary of State publicly to respond with action to improve a jail with significant problems – three times. Those prisons were HMPs Exeter, Bedford and Birmingham, where inspectors found some of the worst conditions they had ever seen.

The Inspectorate also secured funding and developed the methodology for its new Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs), designed to give ministers an independent assessment of how well failing jails were addressing key Inspectorate recommendations. The Justice Select Committee, in its report on HMIP’s inspection of HMP Liverpool in 2017, had expressed concern that the prison service was effectively ‘marking its own homework’ and concluded there should be an injection of independence in the follow up to inspection reports.

 Transparency and accountability

In his annual report, Mr Clarke asks: “How do we independently assess accountability in the inevitably closed world of prisons? The need for greater transparency in the delivery of this key public service has led to some important developments over the past two years that I hope will prove to be a turning point in improving the impact of independent prison inspection in England and Wales.

“There will be around 15–20 IRPs in 2019–20 and each subsequent year and these will be focused on prisons subject to an Urgent Notification or where there are other causes for serious concern.”

Mr Clarke added: “They will concentrate on progress in implementing key recommendations, and will look to see if action plans are properly focused, resourced, and with clear timelines and lines of accountability for improvement.

“As with Urgent Notifications, IRPs will be published, affording a higher level of both political and public accountability than has hitherto been the case. Our first IRPs (in 2019–20) at HMPs Exeter, Chelmsford, The Mount and Birmingham have suggested that a great deal of energy has gone into responding to Urgent Notifications and some other very concerning inspection reports, but that in some instances the response has been disappointingly slow.

“Nevertheless, the early indications are that they are prompting a more focused response than we have become accustomed to seeing in the past.”

Special measures

Mr Clarke made clear he believes such independent scrutiny is vital, given his reservations about the effectiveness of the current HMPPS ‘special measures’ system.

“On some occasions the response has been to place a struggling prison in ‘special measures’, but I do not have confidence in that as a reliable means of driving improvement. The inspection of HMP Lewes in January 2019 found a prison that had been in special measures for two years, and yet had declined in no less than three of our four healthy prison tests and failed to improve in the vital test of safety.

“Similarly, the special measures at HMP Bedford left me with little confidence that the prison could improve, and the use of the Urgent Notification process was inevitable.

He added: “HMI Prisons will remain resolutely independent in all that it does, but that should not and will not stop us being supportive and, where appropriate, collaborative in helping prisons to improve. We are therefore pleased that early indications are that establishments are warmly welcoming the advent of IRPs. Managers have appreciated the focus that the IRP visits have given.”

The most troubled part of the prison estate

As in previous years, men’s local and training prisons – with their high throughput of prisoners, often worn-out fabric, vulnerable populations and levels of violence and illicit drugs use – caused most concern.

The report also discloses significant prisoner vulnerability. Across the service, levels of self‑harm were disturbingly high and self-inflicted deaths tragically increased by nearly one-fifth on the previous year.

Mr Clarke said the prison service response to the “deluge of drugs flowing into many prisons in recent years,” generating debt, bullying and violence, had often been slow and neither robust nor sophisticated. “The introduction of new technology that is necessary to help counter the threat has been patchy.”

The extraordinary dedication of staff

Inspectors were struck, as in previous years, “by the extraordinary dedication of those who work in our prisons. Their work is difficult, often dangerous, largely unseen by the public and, as a result, little understood.

“Many worked through a period in which reduced resources, both in terms of staff and investment, made it extremely difficult to run some of our jails.” New staff deserved support in an environment where, in too many establishments, drug-fuelled violence remained a daily reality.

Variations in performance and the quality of leadership

The report highlights evidence that performance varies between comparable prisons and makes clear the Chief Inspector’s view that the quality of leadership is a vital factor. “Some issues that have an adverse impact on prisoners are often outside the control of prison leaders.

“However, there is much that is firmly within the control of those whose responsibility it is to lead and manage these complex establishments. It is as clear as day… that the variations in performance of apparently comparable jails is directly influenced by the quality of their leadership. “

Key findings

The report contains information from inspections of adult prisons and children’s detention, as well as immigration and other forms of detention.

  • Men’s prisons: Too many prisoners were still being held in prisons that were unsafe. Levels of violence had increased in more than half the prisons we inspected.
  • Respectful detention and living conditions: Inspectors noted the positive impact of in-cell phones and electronic kiosks for prisoners to make applications, health care appointments, arrange visits and make complaints. However, far too many prisoners still endured very poor and overcrowded living conditions. Though around two-thirds of prisoners overall were positive about the way they were treated by staff, inspectors frequently found that prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds had less positive views of their treatment and conditions. There was no clear strategy for older prisoners.
  • Purposeful activity: In only a third of the adult male prisons inspected was purposeful activity, which includes the provision of education, work and training, judged to be good or reasonably good.
  • Rehabilitation and release planning: Overall, there was some progress but much remained to be done, particularly  around prisoners who presented a potentially high risk of harm to the public being released without a full risk assessment. Inspectors saw large cohorts of sex offenders in prisons where specialist interventions were not available.
  • Women’s prisons: Overall, inspectors continued to find that outcomes for women held in prison were better than for men.
  • Children’s custody: HMIP inspected four young offender institutions and three secure training centres. Safety assessment had improved in three inspections. Nevertheless, levels of violence remained high and bullying was a constant concern.
  • Immigration detention: Inspection outcomes were good or reasonably good. However, detainees continued to feel unsafe and uncertain because there was too often a lack of clarity as to what the future held for them.
  • Police custody: HMIP, with HMICFRS, jointly wrote to Chief Constables expressing concern about the governance and oversight of the use of force.

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HMP Stocken – Improved safety but purposeful activity has declined

Inspectors found a mixed picture of progress in HMP Stocken, a training prison in a rural setting in Rutland, since it was last inspected in 2015.

Safety had improved and conditions for more than 800 men in the prison remained reasonably good. However, the prison had deteriorated in terms of purposeful activity, including training and education, and in rehabilitation and release planning.

Click to enlarge image

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said it was clear that the leadership of the prison was fully committed to maintaining and improving performance. “A very obvious sign of success is that the rating we awarded for safety, so often a challenge for prisons in recent times, had risen from not sufficiently good at the last inspection to reasonably good on this occasion.

“This is a very real achievement. Levels of violence had not increased, and were lower than at similar prisons. HMP Stocken had managed to defy the national trend of year-on-year increases in violence.”

Mr Clarke added, however, that HMP Stocken needed to review and develop its drugs strategy, particularly focusing on new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Nevertheless, there had been some good work carried out, and although the mandatory drug testing positive results were high for the previous six months at around 26%, there were some encouraging signs of improvement.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners were generally positive though there had been insufficient attention paid to equalities since the last inspection. Inspectors were concerned by some serious weaknesses in health care.

It was disappointing, both for the Inspectorate and the prison, Mr Clarke said, “to find that performance in the area of purposeful activity had fallen away. At the previous inspection we had awarded our highest grade of ‘good’, but this had now declined to ‘not sufficiently good’.

“Broadly speaking, there were enough activity places and those that attended generally achieved well. However, we found that only 60% of prisoners actually left their wings to attend activities, and a further 16% were wing workers who for much of the time were not gainfully employed. Our assessment was that only around three-quarters of prisoners were engaged in genuinely purposeful activity. For those who did get to their allocated activities, punctuality was often poor and they frequently failed to settle into work promptly.”

Inspectors also had a major concern about the risks to public protection potentially posed by the small number of prisoners, around eight each month, released from Stocken into the community. Stocken is not designated as a resettlement prison, and as such does not receive services from a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). Most prisoners were transferred to a resettlement prison prior to release, but a small number were not. This created potentially serious risks, given the profile of the prisoner population at Stocken, which were compounded by weaknesses in the internal assessment of risk.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Some of (our) judgements were finely balanced, but the main concerns we have identified will, I hope, give a clear steer for where the undoubted energy and commitment of the leadership and staff at Stocken can best be focused.”

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.”

Click for larger image

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.”

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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.

Click to view larger image

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. 

Click to view larger image

“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