HMIP Inspection of Bullingdon

The prison was given an inspection in the summer of 2015, 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 Bullingdon in Oxfordshire held about 1,100 adult men and young adults at the time of this inspection, 27% more than its certified normal accommodation of 869. The prison had a complex population for which it needed to carry out a number of distinct functions. About 40% of the men held used the prison under its new role as a local resettlement prison serving the courts of the Thames Valley area and some further afield, and preparing men for release. For the remaining 60% of category C prisoners it acted as a training prison. The population included about 80 men who were serving indeterminate sentences for public protection.

It was clear that the prison had been through a difficult period before this inspection. However, the new governor had a good understanding of what needed to be done and we found an establishment that had begun to turn the corner, although it was still getting to grips with its new resettlement function and progress was held back by significant staff shortages in a number of critical roles.

Despite the staff shortages, relationships between staff and prisoners were generally good. We saw effective direction of staff by supervising officers who had recently been reintroduced onto the wings. These positive relationships mitigated some of the prison’s other weaknesses and contributed to dynamic security. Staff were supported by the effective use of peer mentors in some key roles. The ‘support and mentoring unit’, for example, was a very good initiative where prisoners who were identified as being likely to struggle on normal location were allocated a mentor who, with appropriate governance and supervision, helped them develop the confidence to integrate into the general population. This was good practice that could be replicated elsewhere. In too many areas, however, these positive relationships were not underpinned by effective strategies or the use of reliable data to ensure all prisoners’ needs were identified and met. Data on levels of violence was unreliable and could not be used effectively to plan how to reduce it. Outcomes for prisoners with protected characteristics were not adequately monitored and the prison did not know if they were being treated equitably. The prison did not use data effectively to manage allocation to activities or monitor attendance. Very large offender assessment system (OASys) backlogs – the key tool for assessing prisoners’ risks and managing their sentence plans – hindered prisoners’ progression and compromised the management of their risk. Managers were beginning to address this gap but at the time the inspection took place the lack of critical information compromised outcomes across the range of areas we examined.

The prison felt calm but more prisoners than at the last inspection told us they did not feel safe. The availability of drugs in the prison and the rise in the availability and use of ‘Spice’, a new psychoactive substance, was a serious threat, leading to debt and bullying. The prison’s response to this was weak. Lack of data about the number of violent incidents, and the ineffective use of the little data it did collect, meant the prison was unable to identify patterns and trends which could inform its response.

Processes to manage perpetrators of violence had recently moved from a paper-based system to the use of electronic notes, but this was ineffective and few staff were able to identify the prisoners they were supposed to be monitoring. There was no effective prison-wide strategy to reduce the supply of drugs.

There had been seven deaths in the prison since the previous inspection in 2012, of which five had been self-inflicted. Levels of self-harm were now much lower than in comparable prisons and prisoners subject to suicide and self-harm case management processes (ACCTs) told us they felt well cared for. However, not enough was being done to reduce the risk of further deaths. Too little had been done to ensure the consistent implementation of Prison and Probation Ombudsman recommendations following some of these deaths and some important ACCT documentation was poor. We were particularly concerned that there was still only limited interpreting for newly arrived non-English speaking foreign national prisoners, despite that being a factor in a recent death.

Processes to ensure all new arrivals received the support and information they needed were inconsistent. We identified prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm who were held in the segregation unit without evidence of the exceptional circumstances required to justify this. The segregation unit offered a poor regime with little distraction because staff were tied down dealing with an excessively large number of adjudications. Prescribing practice for prisoners who arrived requiring opiate substitution was contrary to national guidance and created risks.

Despite the overcrowding, the general environment was good and most prisoners were positive about their relationships with staff. Health care was improving from a low base and was now reasonably good. The dietician service was particularly impressive. These positive outcomes were undermined by significant weaknesses in the management of equality and diversity issues that the prison was only just beginning to address. Prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds reported much more negatively than the rest of the population. Fifty-nine per cent of prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and 48% of Muslim prisoners said staff treated them with respect, compared with 79% of white prisoners and 77% of non-Muslim prisoners; 29% and 33% respectively said they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection compared with 17% and 18% of the rest of the population. The prison’s lack of monitoring data meant it was unable to explain these perceptions or provide assurance they were not justified. Foreign national prisoners who spoke little English told us they received little help from staff and two had taken their own lives since the previous inspection. The prison did not keep a central register of prisoners with disabilities and could not plan for the appropriate level of need. Some older prisoners and those with disabilities were held together on one wing where paid prisoner carers provided them with assistance, but carers did not have clear job descriptions or appropriate training and we were not confident that they were only undertaking appropriate tasks.

The prison held 20 young adults and had recently identified they were over-represented in violent incidents and use of force but there were no arrangements for addressing their specific needs.

The prison was on a restricted regime as a result of staff shortages. There was no evening association and this meant prisoners in full-time work were disadvantaged because they could not use the telephones to contact family members when they would be at home in the evening. Those in work had about eight-and-a-half hours out of their cells on weekdays; the third of prisoners who were unemployed had just four-and-a-half hours. The management of learning and skills and the quality of provision by Milton Keynes College still required improvement, although we recognised that action taken by managers had halted a decline in performance and was addressing high staff absence levels. Allocation processes were poor and this meant some prisoners were allocated to activities that did not meet their needs. This, in turn, contributed to high levels of absenteeism which was not effectively monitored or addressed. Despite there being enough places to meet the needs of the population, attendance at education and training was just 50% and we found more than a third of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day.

There was no strategy that set out how the prison would tackle the rehabilitation of its complex population and the needs that arose from its new resettlement function. Offender management processes were undermined by acute staff shortages which contributed to the large OASys backlog and prisoners were frustrated by their inability to progress. The introduction of wing-based surgeries was a positive initiative to address this. There was too little done to meet the needs of indeterminate sentence prisoners. A new community resettlement company (CRC) – Thames Valley CRC – had very recently taken over responsibility for resettlement services for medium- and low-risk offenders. It was much too early to judge how effective the new arrangements would be but at the very least, some teething problems were evident. Too few prisoners knew where they should go to get help with resettlement issues. Arrangements to provide resettlement services for prisoners from outside Thames Valley CRC’s own area or who were the responsibility of the National Probation Service were not yet in place. Finance, benefit and debt advice was now only provided by a telephone helpline and it was difficult to see how this would meet the needs of prisoners with reading and writing difficulties or poor problem solving skills.

It is clear that there is a big job to do to improve HMP Bullingdon. A start had been made on this work prior to the inspection. Good relationships and a good environment created important foundations for progress and improvements in purposeful activity and health care were evident. Work on equality and diversity issues was just getting off the ground and the new CRC created both opportunities and risks. Nevertheless, at the time of the inspection overall outcomes were not good enough and the prison carried some significant risks. This report sets out some priority recommendations which we hope will assist the prison in making the necessary improvements. 

Nick Hardwick September 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Bullingdon

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

  • HMP Bullingdon (PDF, 922.51 kB) Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Bullingdon (15 – 26 June 2015)
  • HMP Bullingdon, Unannounced inspection of HMP Bullingdon (10-20 July 2012)
  • HMP Bullingdon, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Bullingdon (19-23 July 2010)
  • HMP Bullingdon, Unannounced follow-up inspection of HMP Bullingdon (14-18 January 2008)