HMP Dovegate, HMIP Inspections

The HMIP carried out an inspection on the main prison in early 2015, and the full report can be found on the links below. The therapeutic community division of the prison is subjected to separate inspection (see below). In the summary to the main inspection report the inspectors said,


“Built in 2001, HMP Dovegate is a privately managed category B prison run by Serco. It also houses a largely self-contained therapeutic community which had previously been subject to a separate inspection report. The total population at the time of this inspection was 922 adult men. Our last full inspection was in 2008 when we reported positively about safety, respect and purposeful activity, judging each to be reasonably good. However, we felt that resettlement work was in need of improvement. At a short-follow up inspection in 2011 we thought all four areas were making sufficient progress against our recommendations.

Dovegate is a complex prison which had gone through a period of considerable change since our last visit. The number of category C and offence-related vulnerable prisoners had reduced considerably, and there had been a corresponding influx of mainstream category B prisoners, many of whom were not from the area and nearly all of whom were convicted of serious violent offences. The population was therefore much more challenging than previously. The management team was new; the director and his deputy had arrived at the prison in spring 2014 and said they had inherited a number of managerial and staffing problems. Almost all the rest of the senior management team had arrived after the director and were still coming to terms with the challenges that Dovegate presented. Many prisons have problems restricting access to illicit drugs; this was a significant issue at Dovegate and there were particular challenges associated with the availability of new psychoactive substances which led to widespread debt and associated bullying. Unusually for a category B training prison, Dovegate had a small but significant remand function serving local courts. It also held a large number of men who needed to be kept apart for a variety of safety reasons, including those with gang affiliations and an increasing number who needed some protection from other prisoners because of issues related to debt and involvement with drugs. In addition to this there were a large number of men with significant mental health issues who needed a great deal of attention from managers and staff. The results of this inspection need to be seen in this context.

Early days support at the prison suffered from the absence of a fully functioning unit that specialised in this work. Prisoners could be dispersed after arrival to any unit around the prison with a space, which meant work to ensure their safety, and the safety of others, lacked consistency. General levels of violence were high, many incidents were serious, and prisoners in our survey reported less positively about feeling safe and being victimised by other prisoners than at comparator prisons.

Responses to violence were largely reactive and tactical, and too little was done to tackle underlying factors at either an individual prisoner or prison-wide level. Violence was often associated with drug related debt, and prisoners were left feeling even more insecure because staffing on units was often insufficient: we observed short periods when no staff were present on the units, even though a number of prisoners were unlocked. Prisoners who needed to be kept apart from each other were placed throughout the prison without any clear plan and this created insecurity on specialist units. Some good work had been done to understand and address the issues related to drugs, but some other aspects of safer custody work were underdeveloped. Security was rigorous and more intrusive than we have seen in comparable prisons, but we felt this was justified in view of the threats the prison faced. Despite this, the units were largely calm and the survey results around safety were similar to our last full inspection.

Care for prisoners deemed vulnerable to self-harm was good but we were disappointed to see a number of prisoners on open assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) documents held in segregation without a clear explanation to justify this. Use of adjudications, segregation and force were higher than we normally see, and some aspects of the segregation regime and oversight of force needed attention. A new provider of substance misuse and health services had recently commenced and this was resulting in better integration of these services, but a number of clear challenges remained. While opiate substitute treatment was flexible, first night prescribing was inconsistent, and not all prisoners who needed to were being admitted to the stabilisation unit for monitoring. Group-based psychosocial work had paused several weeks before the inspection. Drugs workers maintained a service in local courts which ensured continuity of treatment and this was good practice that could be replicated elsewhere.

Living conditions were generally good. Communal areas were clean, most cells were well equipped, and the food provided was better than we normally see. However, prisoners complained with some justification about a number of frustrations in daily living, such as obtaining personal hygiene and cell cleaning materials and other basic items. Relationships between staff and prisoners were a significant strength of the prison, and the interactions we observed were professional and decent. Staff had high expectations of the behaviour expected from prisoners and many were not afraid to challenge prisoners when their behaviour fell below these standards. However, staffing levels were very tight and prisoners complained that staff were often scarce and that they could not always find someone to help them with a problem; this was reflected in what we saw. Equality and diversity work was developing and there were some good examples of care for prisoners with protected characteristics and with specific needs. However, black and minority ethnic, Muslim and disabled prisoners were more negative in our survey than others and with no formal monitoring of outcomes for prisoners with protected characteristics managers were not able to identify any deficits in outcomes, or challenge misconceptions. The new health care and substance misuse provider was still bedding in and there had been some improvements, particularly to the inpatient unit, but, with some justification, prisoners were negative about many aspects of the services provided.

We were particularly concerned about the high number of missed health care appointments in the prison and the number of times hospital escorts were cancelled because of a lack of staff. Prisoners in full-time work could have a good amount of time out of cell, but we found too many locked up during the working day. There were broadly enough activity places for all prisoners to have some purposeful activity, but attendance in some areas was poor and we were not convinced that the arrangements to ensure prisoner attendance were robust enough. It was not coincidental that education lessons were too long, that teachers were not doing enough to engage learners, and that prisoners were therefore voting with their feet and not attending in large numbers. The range of provision was good, and a significant number were engaged in Open University degrees, but the lack of supervised access to the internet was making it more difficult for them to progress. Achievements were very mixed and poor in some key areas such as English and maths. Overall we considered that learning and skills provision was in need of improvement.

 Resettlement had improved since the last full inspection. The prison had a good understanding of the needs of the population, and had based this on a recent needs analysis using several sources of data. Resourcing in the offender management unit was good, and unlike many other prisons we visited there was continuity in staffing arrangements and no cross-deployment. However, while there was very good contact between prisoners and their offender supervisors, some aspects of case work were inconsistent and some key assessments were out of date. Practical resettlement work was mostly good and prisoner peer advisors who were based in the resettlement unit staffed the Prisoner Advice Line. They provided a very good service and prisoners could contact the line from their in-cell phones. Support for prisoners to obtain work or training after release needed improvement. However, while some good individual support was provided in maintaining contact with families, friends and the outside world, the visits experience was poor and worse than we usually see in other prisons.

It was clear the prison had struggled to maintain outcomes for a more challenging population and to respond adequately to the destabilising impact of new psychoactive substances. The performance of the prison had dipped and it had taken too long to address this. The various groups of prisoners in Dovegate need to be managed safely and coherently. This should include a dedicated first night/early days unit, better use of the stabilisation unit, and sensible arrangements to hold those who are vulnerable, either through debt or their inability to cope with prison life. Purposefully occupied prisoners are more likely to develop skills that will help them on release, and less likely to have the interest or inclination to become involved in problematic prison behaviour. We were encouraged that the prison’s management team was focused on these challenges and some recent improvement and realistic plans for the future were evident. Nevertheless, there remains much to do and we hope this report will assist with that progress. 

Nick Hardwick May 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 

and on the therapeutic community arm inspected in 2013 they said

 The Dovegate Therapeutic Community (TC) is a distinct institution holding up to 200 men, contained within the larger HMP Dovegate. We inspect the main prison separately. Dovegate TC had improved since our last visit, although some of the core elements of the therapeutic approach, which were not working as they should have been, needed attention.

Dovegate TC is based on the concept that democratic therapeutic communities, run by both staff and prisoners, should be at the centre of the prison. Prisoners are given a real say in the day-to-day running of the prison and therefore have far more influence over their experience of prison life than at normal prisons. This all happens within the context of the usual security imperatives of a category B prison holding men on indeterminate or long determinate sentences. Men arrive at Dovegate TC needing to be more open about their offending and related institutional behaviour and to being challenged by peers and staff within therapy and community groups. Often they have a history of serious violent offending, poor institutional behaviour and prolific self-harm. It is therefore impressive that Dovegate TC remains a safe prison.

Support on arrival was reasonable, but first night work needed to ensure any anxieties were identified and addressed. Men spent their first few months on the assessment unit and we were concerned that they had little to do that was purposeful; the lack of experienced TC members in the unit was affecting the transfer of some key elements of the TC’s ethos.

Crucial to the safety of the TC was the concept that, in addition to the prison’s own processes, prisoners themselves had responsibility for challenging anti-social behaviour – but this depended on them feeling confident enough to raise concerns in therapy about other prisoners’ behaviour, and this was not fully embedded. For example, prisoners told us that they were concerned about the common use of recreational drugs by a small number of prisoners. This needed to be tackled by stronger testing processes but it was also a concern that this was not being raised or challenged at therapy group meetings. Prisoners told us that they did not feel totally safe or secure in doing so; a fact that needed to be addressed head on and openly with prisoners. Nevertheless, there were very few incidents, and most day-to-day safety problems were being dealt with by the communities rather than by recourse to more formal processes. Better scrutiny and analysis of TC-specific safety data would have provided greater reassurance. There had been only one self-inflicted death since the TC opened and not for several years. Support for the small number of men vulnerable to self-harm was good. Support for men with substance misuse issues was also good.

The living environment and outside areas were very good, as were staff-prisoner relationships, which underpinned much of the work being done at the TC. Personal officers knew about the men they were responsible for supporting, including resettlement and family-related concerns. Equality and diversity work was reasonably well developed and most prisoners reported equitable outcomes. Faith provision was good but responses to complaints were poor, which was surprising given the generally respectful approach we saw elsewhere. Prisoners were negative about health services but we assessed outcomes to be generally good, although there were some areas which required improvement. Arrangements for sharing information between health care and therapists need to be strengthened. Prisoners were negative about the quality of food, but canteen arrangements were much better than we normally see.

Time out of cells was good but problems in reconciling the roll in the main prison were having an adverse impact on the delivery of the regime in the TC. Leadership of learning and skills was developing but some elements of quality improvement needed to be fully embedded. There were sufficient activity places for the population but they were not all being used effectively, and the essential focus of learning skills as complementing therapy needed to be better understood and Introduction supported by all staff. Men on the assessment unit had too little to do. It was very welcome that a new unit (Venture) for men with learning difficulties had been established but more thought needed to be given to how best to meet their education and training needs.

Resettlement support was good. A whole prison approach to resettlement supported the key aim of encouraging men to address their risks of re-offending. Offender management arrangements were well developed, although some elements of the reducing reoffending strategy needed to be sharpened up. Few men were released directly from the TC, with most moving back to mainstream prisons, but support was provided when this happened. There was appropriate support in the reducing reoffending pathways and some good support in maintaining contact with children and families.

The promise of the national integrated personality disorder pathways strategy had not yet been realised, which was a wasted opportunity to ensure men arrived at the prison at the right time, and that there was a structured plan for them to progress after completion of the programme. The strategy needed greater grounding in continuing research to assess its effectiveness in reducing reoffending. It was nevertheless positive that men no longer in therapy for some reason were promptly moved to the main prison, thus avoiding their presence undermining the work being done.

Therapy was the main activity delivered to assist men in addressing their risk of harm and reoffending and while some good work was being done in this regard, and men were very positive about what they were doing, problems in delivering some key aspects of therapy risked undermining the effectiveness of the TC. Staffing profiles were not supporting delivery and far too many sessions were being cancelled. Elements of the therapeutic approach were not being effectively reinforced.

Overall, Dovegate provided a safe, respectful but testing environment for the prisoners it held and the public as a whole benefited from its effective work to reduce the risk that they would reoffend after release. We identified some weaknesses, but we were reassured that management had already identified and begun to address most of them. This provided grounds for optimism that the good work of the prison would not just be continued but be enhanced.

Nick Hardwick                                                               January 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


To read the full report go to the Ministry of Justice website or follow the links below:

This section contains the reports for Dovegate from 2003 until present


Return to HMP Dovegate

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