HMIP Reports, HMP Bristol

The prison was given an inspection in Autumn 2014, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

HMP Bristol is a Victorian category B local prison that at the time of this inspection held 586 adult and young adult men, well above its certified normal accommodation of 424. When we previously inspected the prison in May 2013 we were very concerned by what we found. That inspection was a bruising experience for the prison and because of our concerns we announced we would return earlier than usual. This inspection found that the governor and staff had made huge efforts to make progress and to respond to our recommendations. Although significant concerns remained, considerable progress had been made and the prison now had some positive momentum which should help to achieve the further improvements required.

The prison had a needy transient population, typical of an inner city local prison. More than a quarter of the prisoners reported mental health problems and an average of 50 prisoners were under the care of the mental health team at any one time. Almost a third of prisoners reported to us that they had a drug problem when they entered the prison and almost a quarter had problems with alcohol. Seventy per cent needed help with accommodation or employment on release. Two-thirds of prisoners were unsentenced or serving sentences of less than six months. As before, most prisoners spent less than three months in the prison. There were significant limitations on the resources the prison had to meet these needs. The physical environment remained poor. There had been little investment in the quality of accommodation and despite efforts by the prison, many communal areas and cells were in poor physical condition; not sufficiently clean and with broken furniture. There was an infestation of cockroaches on some units.

The prison had to cope with some significant staff vacancies. These were not just among officer posts but affected some critical administrative roles that were crucial to prisoner outcomes. Managers were frustrated by the poor performance of some regional contracts, such as laundry, that caused unacceptable problems but which they felt unable to influence.

When we inspected in 2013 we were critical of the staff culture and were concerned by the attitudes of some staff. There had been a marked improvement by the time of this inspection. In our survey, 81% of prisoners told us staff treated them with respect compared with 67% in 2013; 33% compared with 23% said a member of staff had checked on them personally in the last week. Our own observations were consistent with prisoners’ perceptions. Improvements in relationships between staff and prisoners helped to mitigate some of the other weaknesses in the prison and provided a platform for further improvement. This was just as well because failures in some basic services caused real frustration. The external laundry facilities and kit provision were inadequate and prisoners were humiliated by their inability to obtain clean, properly fitting clothing that was in good repair. Bedding, towels and cleaning materials were also in short supply. Staff shortages meant there were long delays in administering the processes that enabled prisoners to use the phone and some new prisoners waited a week or more before they could phone their family. Prisoners’ views on the food had improved; quality and quantity were better but poor supervision of serveries meant portions were not always given fairly. The number of complaints had increased but the complaints system was working better, replies were appropriate and the prison was responding to the concerns that were consistently raised.

Health services had also improved and prisoners were much more positive about them than before. Mental health provision was very good. The new Brunel Unit provided a range of interventions in a therapeutic environment to stabilise men with enduring mental health problems before they moved back to the wings. It is likely that in the past, in Bristol and in other prisons, these men would have been held in the segregation unit.

The strategic management of equality and diversity was weak and although this was beginning to be addressed, outcomes for prisoners with protected characteristics were mixed. Arrangements to identify and meet the needs of prisoners from minority groups were weak. About 25% of prisoners were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and they reported similarly to or better than white prisoners. Eleven per cent of prisoners were foreign nationals but visits from Home Office immigration staff had recently ceased and these prisoners had no one with whom they could discuss their case. Two prisoners were being held solely on immigration powers beyond the end of their sentence date. Some prisoners with disabilities received inadequate support and although some limited provision for older prisoners had recently been introduced, we found older prisoners and those with disabilities locked in their cells during the day. Younger prisoners were disproportionately represented in disciplinary processes. There was no specific support for gay, bisexual or transgender prisoners. Faith provision was good and previous gaps in provision were being addressed.

The most serious issue still affecting the prison was the level of violence. Seventeen per cent of prisoners told us they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, which was similar to other local prisons, but levels of violence had risen sharply since the last inspection and were now considerably higher than in similar prisons. Not enough had been done to investigate individual incidents and deal with perpetrators and victims or to understand and address wider trends. One in six men sought protection on A wing. This was a vulnerable prisoner and safer custody wing but poor allocation processes meant that the mix of prisoners was such that levels of victimisation and violence were higher than elsewhere in the prison. One vulnerable young adult on the wing had been the victim of predatory behaviour by an older man and despite staff being aware of the risk, not enough was done to protect him.

Prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm felt well supported, perhaps reflecting the much better attitudes of staff, but processes to care for them were weak. Reception and early days processes had much improved. Levels of use of force were comparable to local prisons and although throughput was high, prisoners in the segregation unit were well cared for and the Brunel Unit provided a valuable additional resource to deal with the most challenging men. Security was proportionate and the prison was taking robust action to reduce the supply of drugs. Nevertheless, the availability of legal highs such as ‘Spice’ was a problem, as found elsewhere in the prison system. In the last six months there had been seven Spice-related emergency admissions to hospital. Services for prisoners with substance abuse problems had improved since the last inspection and were now good.

Prisoners could have much more time out of their cells than at the previous inspection. Working prisoners had nine hours out of their cells during the week but for the large number of unemployed prisoners this was reduced to about five hours. Nevertheless, this was better than we often see in local prisons. The management of learning, work and skills required improvement and the prison did not use all its activity places efficiently. Allocation and attendance were poor. The prison had sufficient activity places to make sure everyone had at least something to do part time but too many prisoners had full time activity which meant some had none. There were too many occasions where prisoners were allocated to more than one activity at the same time.

The partnership between the prison and Weston College, the learning and skills provider, was improving and efforts had been made to tailor provision to the short stays most men had in the prison. Success rates in critical functional English and mathematics had improved and the use of trained peer mentors to support this on the wings was very good. Overall however, the quality of provision and achievements of prisoners was still too variable. The library was adequate and there was good PE provision but access to both was too limited.

The prison had begun to make plans for its new role as a resettlement prison. Offender management had deteriorated and was failing to meet the needs of a very transient population. Many prisoners were transferred without an assessment of their risks. As part of the reconfiguration of the estate to meet the requirement to establish resettlement prisons, prisoners were allocated to other prisons on the basis of their sentence length rather than the assessment of their offending-related need. We have seen elsewhere that this has causes considerable difficulty for receiving prisons. Prisoners who were eligible for home detention curfew were not considered, which was particularly disconcerting in an overcrowded prison estate. Unsentenced and short sentence prisoners did not have custody plans. Multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) procedures for the most high risk prisoners were in disarray but public protection arrangements as a whole were reasonable.

Practical resettlement services had improved since the last inspection. New arrangements had reduced the number of men leaving the prison without settled accommodation, from 22% in April 2014 to 5% in September. Help for men to obtain work or training after release was good. Health care arrangements were also good. Resettlement support for men with substance abuse issues was excellent and the prison participated in a pilot scheme to train prisoners to give emergency life saving opiate overdose treatment after release. There was good support to help men manage their finances and debt after release but because processes to enable prisoners to set up bank accounts were too lengthy for those with short stays in the prison, the scheme had lapsed. Family support had improved and the Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) provided a very good service and organised family visits in the school holidays, but these were only available for enhanced prisoners. The visits hall was a good environment and the number of visit places had increased.

HMP Bristol has come a long way in a relatively short time since the last inspection. Nevertheless, some significant concerns remain and while some of these are outside the prison’s direct control, it is important this does not discourage the prison from making the further improvements that could be made. The distance the prison has already travelled has involved real determination, hard work and resilience from managers and staff which needs to be recognised. It is important they now receive support to make the further improvements required. 

Nick Hardwick                       February 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Bristol

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:

  • HMP Bristol, Report on an announced inspection of HMP Bristol (29 September – 3 October 2014)
  • HMP Bristol, Unannounced inspection of HMP Bristol (6–17 May 2013)
  • HMP Bristol , Announced inspection of HMP Bristol (4-8 January 2010)
  • HMP Bristol, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Bristol (3-6 March 2008)