HMP The Mount struggling with 'significant difficulties'

By agency reporter
September 28, 2018

HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire was found by inspectors to be a prison struggling to overcome significant difficulties, including high levels of HMPviolence and staff shortages, but showing signs of improvement after a deterioration in performance over recent years.

The category C training and resettlement prison held just under 980 men, all convicted, and a clear majority were serving long sentences for serious offences, many related to violence and drugs.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the previous inspection, in 2015, had found The Mount to be a successful prison. The inspection in April and May 2018, in contrast, “evidenced very significant deterioration.” Safety and respectful treatment – two of the four HMI Prisons ‘healthy prison’ tests – were not sufficiently good. In purposeful activity – including training and education – and in rehabilitation and release work the prison had slipped to poor, the lowest assessment.

Mr Clarke said: “It was clear the prison had experienced serious difficulties in recent times, although there was emergent evidence of some improvement.”

Levels of violence were comparatively high and mostly related to drugs and debt. A significant amount of the violence was serious and nearly half of prisoners said they had felt unsafe while in The Mount. Force was used more frequently and more often by staff than at similar prisons and governance and accountability were seriously lacking. “Simple measures such as switching on body-worn cameras were not complied with.”

Nearly a third of prisoners were found in tests to be using illegal drugs, Mr Clarke added, “a fact that was critically undermining the ability of the prison to remain safe or achieve its main purpose.” The Mount was not overcrowded, unlike many prisons, but living conditions were often quite shabby and run down. Outside areas were tidy but plagued by rats.

Inspectors found that equality and the promotion of diversity at The Mount needed to become a greater priority. The report noted: “About 40 per cent of prisoners were from black or Asian backgrounds, and about 30 per cent identified as Muslim. In our survey, both groups responded negatively on a wide range of issues.”

About a fifth of prisoners were locked up during the working day and there was only sufficient full-time activity for about two-thirds of the population. Ofsted inspectors judged the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work provision to be ‘inadequate’, their lowest assessment. Inspectors also found that little was done to help prisoners maintain family ties and work to support offender management was severely undermined by staff shortages.

Mr Clarke said: “The Mount was a prison undergoing significant difficulties. Across a broad range of indicators there had been deterioration in recent years, not helped by crippling staff shortages. There was some encouragement in that new staff would be arriving at the prison within the coming months, and managers were keen to emphasise that they saw the prison as being in recovery and following an improving trajectory. There was emergent evidence to support this view but it would be complacent to presume the prison’s future is secure. The prison was neither safe enough nor sufficiently respectful. In terms of its key mission to train and rehabilitate, it was absolutely failing. Resources are important but they are not the whole picture. There needed to be some deep and joined-up thinking at The Mount about priorities, purpose and how improvement is to be implemented and sustained.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said: “As the Chief Inspector acknowledges, The Mount is improving after a difficult period and there are robust plans in place to accelerate progress.

“An additional 30 prison officers will be working on landings by December and a strengthened violence reduction strategy is being implemented. The prison is also increasing purposeful activity, finding a new education provider and has appointed a dedicated manager to make sure the prison is caring appropriately for its diverse population.

“A comprehensive action plan will be published to address the wider recommendations in this report and we will be monitoring progress closely.”

* Read the inspection report here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

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