Chief Inspector calls on Justice Secretary to intervene urgently in HMP Bristol

By agency reporter
June 14, 2019

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, has called on the Secretary of State for Justice to intervene urgently in HMP Bristol after an inspection found the prison was suffering the effects of years of “drift and decline”.

Inspectors who visited in May and June – in the latest of four inspections since 2013 – were concerned by high violence, squalid living conditions and poor training and education.

Invoking the rarely-used Urgent Notification (UN) Protocol, Mr Clarke wrote publicly to David Gauke warning him the prison had not improved in any way since a troubling inspection in 2017, despite being placed in ‘Special Measures’ by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). He added that he could have no confidence that HMP Bristol will achieve meaningful improvement.

The UN Protocol requires the Secretary of State to respond in public within 28 days with plans to improve a prison where Mr Clarke has significant concerns over the treatment and conditions of prisoners. UNs have previously been issued at HMPs Nottingham, Exeter, Birmingham and Bedford.

In his letter to Mr Gauke (published on 13 June 2019, with accompanying notes from the end-of-inspection briefing for the prison governing team) Mr Clarke wrote that the 2017 inspection showed clear evidence of declining standards, but that at the time he believed that there might be grounds for cautious optimism and a realistic prospect of improvement. The 2019 visit showed this optimism was misplaced. Some of the key findings included:

  • Nearly two-thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay at the prison, with over a third feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection.
  • Recorded violence, much of it serious, had increased since the last inspection and was much higher than the average for local prisons.
  • The rate of self-harm had increased and remained higher than most other local prisons. Despite the fact there had been two self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection, recommendations following investigations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had not been implemented. Inspectors saw examples of very poor care for prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm.
  • A hotline for family and friends of prisoners in crisis, to call and report their concerns, had not been checked by staff for the two weeks before the inspection.
  • Most accommodation remained bleak and grubby with too many overcrowded cells.
  • There were sufficient activity places for all prisoners to engage in education, training or work for at least part of the day. However, only half of prisoners had been allocated to an activity and of these on average only about half attended.

Mr Clarke said: “The chronic and seemingly intractable failings at Bristol have now been evident for the best part of a decade.” He added that HMP Bristol “has demonstrably been in a state of drift and decline for many years.

“My understanding is that ‘Special Measures’ are intended to provide support for the Governor of a struggling prison. If that is the intention, they have clearly failed at HMP Bristol. The investment which has taken place has not yet led to any tangible improvement in outcomes. Some of the efforts to improve have – in reality – been a case of too little, too late: some we saw had only just been implemented, and some were introduced during the inspection itself. On the basis of this latest inspection, I can have no confidence that HMP Bristol will achieve coherent, meaningful or sustained improvement in the future.”

* Read Peter Clarke's letter and accompanying notes here

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

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