HMIP Inspection of Brixton

The prison was given an inspection in November 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 Brixton is one of London’s oldest functioning prisons and has, for the last two years, been transitioning from its traditional function as a local prison to its new role as a category C/D resettlement prison for south London. At this inspection we found that the process of change was continuing and just a few months before our arrival, the prison’s vulnerable prisoner population (mainly sex offenders) were removed at short notice to be replaced by more mainstream prisoners.

We last inspected Brixton during the summer of 2013 when the prison was just beginning the transition process. We committed then to return quickly for an announced inspection and to ensure a fuller and more comprehensive assessment of the potential we saw last year. Overall we have been encouraged by what we have seen. Brixton is a difficult prison to run and requires constant attention, not least because of its age, location and the limitations of its environment. However, overall it continues to improve.

Arrangements to admit new prisoners had improved and the wellbeing of prisoners on their first night had received attention. However, induction arrangements were less effective and took too long. Prisoner perceptions about their safety had not improved and there was evidence of more violence which had coincided with the recent population changes. Levels of violence were however, consistent with similar prisons. Work to address and reduce violence was improving but more needed to be done. We were particularly concerned about the lack of confidence prisoners had in reporting victimisation and intimidation.

Incidents of self-harm had increased over the last year but remained lower than comparable prisons. Tragically the prison had experienced two self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection. Action had been taken to address the recommendations of investigating authorities, but more needed to be done to ensure responses and improvements were sustained. A safer custody strategy was still being worked on but prisoners at risk we spoke to felt well supported. The case management of these prisoners, however, needed to improve.

Security was generally applied proportionately but there were still vestiges of the old Brixton and the prison needed to review unlock arrangements for the now significant low risk category D population. Use of force was low, as was use of segregation. The segregation unit itself was a poor environment but prisoners were normally reintegrated fairly quickly.

A structural weakness of the prison remained the aged, cramped environment. The prison was reasonably clean but we describe many cells in this report as grim. Too many were overcrowded and this undermined the ethos of a prison that was meant to be guiding prisoners toward resettlement. Relationships between staff and prisoners were benign and most prisoners felt respected but some staff needed to be more helpful. Consultation arrangements were reasonably good. Work to promote equality was improving and outcomes for some groups were getting better but our survey indicated more negative perceptions among some minorities, particularly prisoners from a black and minority ethnic background, Muslim prisoners and those with disabilities. Improved consultation and more rigour in responding to adverse monitoring data was required.

Faith provision was strong, as was pastoral care, but prisoners lacked confidence in the complaints process. Our own observations suggested that this perception was quite harsh and complaints responses were generally fair and respectful. Health services were effective and prisoners were positive about the service they received.

Prisoners who worked could be out of their cells for an impressive 10 hours a day but we still found a quarter of prisoners locked up during the working day. Routines were being delivered but the prison closed down very early in the evening. Both these issues were again at odds with the function of prison that was preparing prisoners nearing the end of their sentences. The provision of learning and skills and activity was improving and there were now sufficient activity places for the whole population. However, attendance was not good enough and about 80 prisoners were unacceptably refusing to work. There was a good focus on employability and some very impressive and developing vocational training, as well as resettlement placements available on daily temporary release. Education opportunities broadly met need but teaching, learning and achievements could all be improved, as could progression opportunities provided for higher level learning. There was also too much underemployment with most of the work available, such as wing cleaning, being low skill and undemanding.

The prison’s resettlement strategy was reasonable but the analysis of need had yet to keep pace with recent population changes. The use of release on temporary licence (ROTL), was well managed and now integral to the work of the prison, although we were concerned that too many prisoners were sent to Brixton with too little time left of their sentence to benefit from ROTL. Offender management was also struggling to keep pace with recent population changes and many prisoners had neither an up-to-date assessment nor a sentence plan. The quality of the sentence plans we saw also required improvement. Work to support resettlement was generally very good despite no initial assessment on reception. Support for children and families was particularly good, but the prison needed to rethink and realign its offending behaviour interventions to better meet need.

At recent inspections and largely as a response to the poor conditions we have seen at Brixton, this inspectorate called for a rethink of this establishment’s role and purpose. That rethink is taking place and Brixton is developing a new sense of purpose. Brixton provides a unique opportunity for London prisoners to resettle into their local community. The resettlement function makes sense and it is clear that a huge amount of work has been done to deliver this new vision, but Brixton needs help to ensure it receives prisoners who are able to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. The prison is not yet transformed and there are features and aspects of the operation that jar with this new direction. However, Brixton is a better place; it is reasonably safe and settled and there have been demonstrable improvements in the way it is equipping and preparing prisoners for release.

Nick Hardwick         March 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Brixton

To read the full reports follow the links below:

  • HMP Brixton, Report on an announced inspection of HMP Brixton (3 – 7 November 2014)
  • HMP Brixton, Unannounced inspection of HMP Brixton (1–12 July 2013)
  • HMP Brixton, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Brixton (1 – 10 December 2010)
  • HMP Brixton, An announced inspection of HMP Brixton (28 April – 2 May 2008)