Prison chief demands action over 'unsafe' Nottingham jail

HMP Nottingham has been found to be 'fundamentally unsafe' as levels of self-harm 'rise.'

Thursday, 18th January 2018, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 19th January 2018, 9:35 am
Between the 2016 and 2018 inspections, levels of self-harm had risen very significantly and eight prisoners were believed to have taken their own lives.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has demanded that the Secretary of State for Justice intervenes to ensure urgent action.

In the first use of a recently signed ‘Urgent Notification’ protocol, Peter Clarke put the new Secretary of State, David Gauke, publicly on notice that Nottingham jail requires immediate action.

The protocol, signed by his predecessor David Lidington, gives Mr Gauke 28 days to respond in public.

Inspectors visited HMP Nottingham on January 8, – the third inspection in little over three years.

Inspectors found serious failures in safety which were repeated from the earlier inspections.

Between the 2016 and 2018 inspections, levels of self-harm had risen “very significantly” and eight prisoners were believed to have taken their own lives (with some cases still subject to a coroner’s inquest). Over two-thirds of men said they had felt unsafe in the prison at some time, and more than a third felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. There were high levels of drugs, violence and assaults and use of force by staff.

In a letter to Mr Gauke on January, 17, made public today under the Urgent Notification protocol, Mr Clarke said: “Inspection findings at HMP Nottingham tell a story of dramatic decline since 2010.”

Inspections in 2014, 2016 and 2018 found safety to be “poor”, the lowest HMI Prisons grading. Only one other prison has received similar gradings and it would almost certainly have been the subject of an Urgent Notification, had the protocol been in force at the time.

Mr Clarke wrote: “The principal reason I have decided to issue an Urgent Notification…is because for the third time in a row HMI Prisons has found the prison to be fundamentally unsafe.

“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.” Only two of 13 “crucial” recommendations on safety made in 2016 were fully achieved.

Mr Clarke added: “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…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 HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) senior leadership.

“It appears that the problems at Nottingham are intractable and that staff there are unable to improve safety despite the fact that this failing increases the vulnerability both of those who are held in the prison and of those who work there.”

Aside from safety, Nottingham was assessed as “not sufficiently good” – the second lowest grade – for respect, purposeful activity for prisoners and resettlement work.

HMP Nottingham did not suffer from staff shortages, Mr Clarke noted, and a “very successful” recent recruitment campaign presented an opportunity for improvement. “However, more than half the staff had less than one year’s experience and this clearly showed in their dealings with prisoners.

“Work was being done to support staff but it was not yet embedded or effecting sufficient improvement. This lack of experience extended to managers, some of whom were temporarily promoted and new to Nottingham. However, the leadership team was enthusiastic, committed and well intentioned.”

Mr Clarke concluded: “HMI Prisons has a clear view that a lack of continuity amongst governors at Nottingham in recent years has not been beneficial, and that yet more change at senior level is not the answer to lifting the prison out of its current dangerous state. It seems to us that managers and staff at Nottingham are doing their best but need urgent support from HMPPS to build up competence, capability and resilience.

“It would be a mistake simply to rely on the fact that there are now more staff at HMP Nottingham to deliver improvement. There needs to be an unwavering focus on making the prison safe and insisting that basic procedures that enhance safety for prisoners and staff alike are followed. If this does not happen, further tragedies and unacceptably high levels of violence will continue to blight HMP Nottingham.”