Young adult prison 'must address disturbing increase in prisoner self-harm'

By Agencies
March 28, 2018

Her Majesty's Young Offenders Institution Brinsford avoided massive increases in violence seen in many other jails but must address a "dreadful" rise in self-harm by young adult prisoners and change a regime in which they are locked in cells for long periods of the day, according to prison inspectors.

Brinsford was inspected in November 2017. Inspectors concluded that “boredom and frustration caused by the poor regime” contributed to continuing high levels of violence. However, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said it was to the credit of the prison that levels had not risen since the previous inspection in 2015, bucking the national trend of enormous increases.

Despite this, inspectors downgraded the assessment of safety at Brinsford, a jail for young male adults aged 18-21, near Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands, because of concerns about prisoners self-harming. Self-harm had “increased quite dramatically.” There were 554 self-harm incidents between May and October 2017, with a small number of individuals accounting for multiple incidents.

“To understand the dreadful increase in self-harm,” Mr Clarke added, “it is impossible to ignore the potential impact of the regime at Brinsford, which was particularly poor for a population consisting mainly of young adults. For those who were supposedly in full-time employment, five-and-a-half hours out of their cell each day was typical, and was simply not good enough, leaving very little time for access to showers or telephones.

“For those who were unemployed, an hour out of their cell each day was typical. For the prison to make meaningful progress in many other areas, these unacceptable figures must be improved.” Inspectors also noted that some of the meals were too small for young adults.

Mr Clarke said Brinsford “had been on a journey of peaks and troughs in performance.” The lowest trough was in 2013 when inspectors found the prison in urgent need of improvement, with the lowest possible assessment of ‘poor’ in all HMIP’s healthy prison tests. Following that inspection, the prison benefited from new leadership and a very significant injection of resources. At the next inspection, in 2015, one inspector commented that in many ways it resembled a "brand new prison".

“However, since 2015, in common with the rest of the prison estate, Brinsford had felt the impact of reduced resources, and the improvements proved to be fragile,” as the assessments in 2017 showed, Mr Clarke said. “The gleaming paint and brand-new furniture that inspectors saw in 2015 had begun to fade. The lack of new investment, compounded ­– we were told – by frustration with the facilities management contract, meant that there had been an inevitable decline in living conditions. Despite the problems with the facilities management contract, there were some issues that were in the gift of the prison to rectify, particularly around basic cleanliness.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said, “It was obvious (in 2017) that the current enthusiastic yet realistic leadership at Brinsford was determined to implement successfully the many credible plans that they now had in place. It is to be hoped that their plans will succeed. The improvements we saw in 2015 turned out to have been fragile and built on weak foundations that did not endure…It is not unreasonable to hope that if the plans of the current senior leadership come to fruition, the results of the next inspection will be markedly better; but that is speculation. For the moment, Brinsford is a prison that is working hard to bring about some much-needed improvements, which we hope will prove to be more durable than in the past.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said, “As the Chief Inspector acknowledges, the Governor has robust plans in place to improve performance and safety at Brinsford. Constructive activity has increased since the inspection and prisoners have more time out of cells. Systems to support the most vulnerable and to reduce self-harm have been strengthened. Staff and managers are determined to achieve the sustained improvements required and progress will be closely monitored over the coming months.”

Commenting on the report, Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It is frankly depressing to see yet another prison receive an awful inspection report.

“We should not become inured to this state of affairs. Brinsford is a prison holding young men, at the beginning of their adult lives. It should shame ministers and officials at the Ministry of Justice that the Chief Inspector is describing a ‘dreadful’ rise in self-injury among these young men, in the supposed care of the state.

“We need more than assurances that local managers struggling with systemic problems will be ‘closely monitored’. This is a national emergency. It is time for bold action to reduce the number of people in prison – to save lives, protect staff and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair.”

* Read the inspection report here 

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons

* Howard League for Penal Reform


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