HMYOI Brinsford, HMIP Inspections

The prison was given a full inspection in 2013 and again in early 2015. In their report the inspectors said:

“HMYOI Brinsford is situated near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, and at the time of this inspection held almost 400 young adult men, almost all of whom were between18 and 20 years old. When we last inspected HMYOI Brinsford in November 2013, I described our findings as the worst we had identified during my tenure as Chief Inspector. When we returned for this announced inspection just 15 months later in February 2015, we found an establishment that had systematically addressed our recommendations and was transformed. The establishment had rightly prioritised improving safety and respect; these were also the essential foundations for improvements in purposeful activity and resettlement, in which further progress was still required.

A prisoner’s first few days in custody are a high-risk time. In 2013 we had described arrangements for receiving young men into Brinsford and looking after them in their early days as very poor. By the time of this latest inspection they had improved greatly and were very good. Incidents of self-harm had reduced by a third and care for prisoners in crisis was good. At the last inspection we were concerned that the prison was not fully aware of the levels of violence that were occurring. At this inspection we were assured the prison had a much more accurate picture of what was happening. The number of recorded violent incidents had increased and, whether or not this represented a real increase, was too high, although much of the violence was low level. About one in five prisoners told us they did not feel safe at the time of the inspection, similar to the previous inspection. A wing on one of the units had been designated as a supported living unit to provide a safe environment for those who were most vulnerable because of bullying or other reasons; the wing also housed peer mentors and trusted prisoners who helped create a stable environment.

Formal safeguarding arrangements for vulnerable prisoners were now better than at most other prisons. Responses to poor behaviour had also improved. The incentives and earned privileges scheme had been revised and was generally appropriate to the maturity of the young men held, with clear and prompt responses to both good and bad behaviour. However, while prisoners generally only spent short periods on the basic level, the regime for those on the level was very restrictive. Use of force had increased but we were satisfied it was used correctly. The use of segregation had fallen sharply.

The prison was tackling both the supply and demand for drugs. Security was proportionate to the level of risk posed by prisoners and although the availability of drugs remained a problem, the prison was responding intelligently to this. Substance misuse services had improved markedly and were now very good.

The physical environment at the last inspection was very poor with dirty and dilapidated communal areas and squalid cells, many with broken or missing windows open to the elements. The external areas were now spotlessly clean. A programme of refurbishment was underway and cells were now in good condition. Relationships between staff and prisoners were also now very good. Staff had a good knowledge of the prisoners in their care and provided support and challenge appropriately.

Prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and Muslim prisoners generally reported as well or better than the rest of the population to questions in our survey about safety and their relationships with staff.

Prisoners with disabilities, particularly mental health issues, were disproportionately represented in adjudication and use of force incidents. The appointment of a managing chaplain was improving faith provision. Health services had also much improved. Governance arrangements were very good, waiting lists had been cut and prisoners received a good standard of care. The supervision of medicine hatches was poor and this created opportunities for bullying and the diversion of prescribed medication. Mental health services were very good but transfer times for patients with the most acute mental health needs were too long. We were pleased to see training had been planned to meet the often overlooked needs of prisoners with head injuries, and this should be consolidated and combined with appropriate assessments of their need.

Improvements in purposeful activity were less well advanced. With a few exceptions, prisoners had good time out of cell. There were now adequate activity places to meet the needs of the population but attendance was poor. Attendance at education was just over 50% and while attendance on vocational courses was better, it was still poor. In part this needed more consistent supervision by staff to ensure that prisoners attended scheduled activities. It also required improvements in the quality of provision to better motivate prisoners to attend. Teaching was inconsistent and achievements were low, particularly in the crucial areas of maths and English. However, the partnership between Milton Keynes College and the prison had improved, quality assurance had improved and staff were helped to improve their performance. The library offered good and imaginative provision but usage was disappointingly low. PE facilities and access were good.

Resettlement services required the most development. There had been improvement but offender management was not integrated across the prison and was undermined by the frequent redeployment of staff working in this area to meet other pressing needs in the prison. There was a backlog of risk assessments and some public protection processes were weak. Practical resettlement services were adequate and there had been considerable improvement in work with families and to encourage responsible parenting.

In my report of our 2013 inspection I concluded:

Brinsford is a prison that has struggled for a number of years. Work with young adults is very challenging and facilities in the prison are not ideal but this is an establishment that needs significant improvement. When we spoke to staff and managers they were aware of the problems but seemed overwhelmed, and they lacked a plan or the determination to begin to get to grips with what needed doing. We found so much wrong with Brinsford that it is going to take time to improve, but stronger leadership and capability from managers, along with a better approach and greater professionalism from staff, would be a start. Other priorities include radical improvements to the quality of the environment, a commitment to the safety and well-being of the young men held in Brinsford, and a clear plan to deliver services that better equip these young men for release.’

The response of managers and staff in the prison to that challenge has been impressive and more progress than we dared hope for has been made. The scale of the problems facing Brinsford was such that there still remains a great deal to do. Some of the improvements we saw were very recent and not yet fully embedded. There should be no room for complacency. Nevertheless, those involved should be congratulated on the progress they have made, which has served the young men held at Brinsford, the staff who work with them and the communities into which they will be released well. 

Nick Hardwick July 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

To read the full report follow the links to the Ministry of Justice web site below

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