HMIP Reports, HMP Guys Marsh

The prison was given an inspection in December 2016 and  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:

“Guys Marsh is a category C training and resettlement prison located in rural Dorset, holding a mixed population of approximately 550 convicted adult male prisoners. The full range of sentences was represented but with a preponderance of longer-term individuals including nearly 100 serving in excess of 10 years or indeterminate sentences. The majority of men held come from across the South West and in particular from population centres such as Bristol.

We last inspected Guys Marsh in November 2014 when we described a prison in crisis where managers and staff had all but lost control. A new governor had been appointed since then but we decided upon an early return to the prison in order to follow up on our previous findings and recommendations and gain some assurance that progress was being made. As is my practice in such circumstances, I gave the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the prison six months’ notice of my intentions, doing so in the hope that their awareness of our impending visit would encourage improvement.

Our findings at this inspection, however, were  very disappointing. Less than one-third of our previous recommendations had been  achieved. Guys Marsh had many challenges, something we fully acknowledged and recognised. The prison is in a relatively remote location and a long way from the home areas and support networks of many of the prisoners it holds. Staff resources were stretched, which was something that had been recognised by NOMS and was being addressed. Many of those held were serious, challenging and in some cases organised offenders. All this said, far too little had been done far too late to address the serious concerns we raised in our previous report. It was striking how few of our recommendations had been addressed and in some respects the prison had got worse.

Guys Marsh remained unsafe. A quarter of prisoners told us in our survey that they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection and about half had felt unsafe at some point during their stay. Levels of violence were high and rising, with the number of assaults on staff, for example, having tripled since we last inspected. Too much of the violence was serious and many prisoners were either seeking sanctuary or self-isolating for their own protection. Interventions by the prison to help reduce violence were insufficient. Much of the violence was, in our view, directly linked to issues of debt amongst prisoners and the widespread availability of illegal drugs. Some 74% of  prisoners told us they thought illegal drugs were easily available and nearly a quarter indicated they had acquired a drug problem at the prison.

Mandatory testing data suggested usage of detectable  drugs was high and this did not account for the similar prevalence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) The prison was not yet fully sighted on the full extent of the issue or responding effectively. A better understanding of the problems of violence and drugs, as well as the need for clear strategies and initiatives to reduce their influence, were priorities for the prison and the subject of two of our main recommendations for the prison.

Since we last inspected, three prisoners had taken their own lives at the prison. Levels of self-harm generally had not risen but remained higher than at similar prisons. Support offered to those experiencing crisis was variable and it was concerning that the prison’s response to the recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), who investigated the recent deaths, lacked rigour.

Many communal areas and much of the accommodation remained in a poor condition. Facilities and cells were dirty, furniture was broken or missing  and too many cells had missing window panes. Prisoners expressed frustration at their lack of access to basic amenities such as bedding, kit and cleaning materials. The prison, in response, blamed much of the problem upon their maintenance contractor.

Most prisoners told us that they felt respected by staff and we observed friendly if somewhat superficial engagement. Staff, however, too often failed to challenge poor behaviour. They had, in our view, low expectations of prisoners and presided over a permissive  culture that did not establish clear boundaries and discipline. An improved environment and a more confident and capable staff culture were essential if this prison was to improve and consequently we also highlighted these priorities as main recommendations.

Our findings indicated that time out of cell was reasonable for most, although our checks found about 20% of prisoners locked in cell during the working day. The management of learning and skills was improving, but too slowly. While there were now sufficient places to employ all, at any one time about 30% of prisoners were not engaged. Those who did engage in work or learning seemed motivated and on many courses achieved well, although less so in English and maths. The expectation that all prisoners engage fully in learning and work was another priority we identified.

Support for resettlement remained poor. Shortages of staff undermined offender management processes, despite a relatively high-risk population, and about half of all prisoners did not have a current offender assessment system (OASys) assessment. Too many prisoners felt unsupported in their efforts to progress through their sentence and had limited contact with their supervisor. Public protection work required improvement but resettlement work was generally adequate. A better assessment of prisoner need as well as meaningful  data or analysis was needed to provide a better sense of the effectiveness of what was being offered.

This inspection found failings in almost every area of the prison we looked at. We were advised that NOMS had recognised some of the strategic problems  the prison faced, particularly in relation to staffing numbers, with the promise of new resources a cause for some hope and renewed optimism. Any progress from the very low base we identified in 2015 had been very recent and was not well embedded. Some very careful thought needed to be given to how to move the prison forward. Improvement had to be based on a careful analysis and understanding of what was actually happening in the prison; an achievable plan which identified clear priorities and determined leadership focused on delivery were needed. This report provides an  analysis and recommendations which we hope will assist in that process.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                                                                                January   2017                                                                               

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Guys Marsh

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

  • HMP Guys Marsh (601.56 kB), Report on an announced inspection of HMP Guys Marsh (5-9 December 2016)
  • HMP Guys Marsh, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Guys Marsh (10 – 21 November 2014)
  • HMP Guys Marsh, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Guys Marsh (25–27 February 2013)
  • HMP Guys Marsh, Announced inspection of HMP Guys Marsh (4–8 January 2010)
  • HMP/YOI Guys Marsh, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP and YOI Guys Marsh (21-23 January 2008)