HMIP Inspections of High Down

The prison was given an inspection very early in 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 High Down is a local category B prison near Banstead in Surrey which, at the time of this inspection, held about 1,100 men. We last inspected the prison in July 2011. It was clear that outcomes for prisoners had deteriorated significantly in the intervening period and although they were now improving once again, progress was seriously impeded by serious staff shortages and a reliance on significant numbers of detached duty staff temporarily redeployed from other prisons elsewhere in the country. Vacancies, an unusually high number of bed watches, and a lack of consistent staffing adversely affected many areas of the prison. New staff were being recruited and managers generally had a realistic view of the improvements required. Nevertheless, at the time of this inspection, outcomes for the prisoners held were not sufficiently good in a number of important areas.

The prison was operating a restricted regime with reduced association, domestic and exercise periods for all prisoners. Staff absences meant that there were regularly further unplanned regime restrictions. Despite this, a fully employed prisoner had about nine hours out of cell on weekdays which was good, but there were insufficient activity places and almost a third of prisoners were unemployed. Unemployed prisoners were locked in their cells for about 22 hours a day. It was therefore frustrating that full use was not made of the activity places that were available. Only 65% of the available places were used which meant that 200 places were unused. The management of learning and skills required improvement and although a new management team was making good progress and credible quality improvement processes were in place, they were starting from a very low base. There was some very good vocational training and work available that offered prisoners good opportunities to get relevant qualifications and experience. For example, prisoners could acquire good skills in the Clink restaurant, an initiative pioneered at HMP High Down and now copied elsewhere, and the busy call centre and recycling unit provided realistic working environments. Nevertheless, the quality of teaching was inconsistent, the planning of activities was poor, prisoners’ achievements in essential English and mathematics were too low and the shortage of places was a fundamental weakness. Library provision was effective but staff shortages also severely restricted access to PE.

Staff shortages also impacted on resettlement activities and this was exacerbated by poor coordination of the relevant services. There was no ‘whole prison’ approach to resettlement. The probation team had its own manager and was located away from the main offender management unit. There was significant variation in the quality of work of the two teams and insufficient coordination between them. The prison had implemented the national model of officers with dual functions as offender supervisors and with unit supervisory roles. Staff shortages meant that these officers had had little time to devote to their offender supervisor roles and as a consequence large backlogs had built up and contact between prisoners and their offender supervisors was inconsistent. As we are beginning to see elsewhere, shortly before the inspection the prison had abandoned the dual role model and reverted to single role offender supervisors. This was beginning to have a positive impact but it was too early to fully judge its effectiveness. The variable quality of the work and backlogs that had built up affected prisoners’ ability to progress and created weaknesses in public protection arrangements. The lack of opportunities to progress for the 50 indeterminate sentence prisoners was a particular concern. There were no nationally accredited offender behaviour programmes offered. In theory prisoners should have transferred to another prison where suitable programmes were in place but not enough prisoners did so, and a lack of suitable places nationally meant this was a particular problem for sex offenders, some of whom were released without having their attitudes, thinking and behaviour addressed.

Practical resettlement services were generally better. The creation of a resettlement centre was positive but this needed to be better organised. Few prisoners were released without accommodation to go to and prisoners received effective help with finance and debt issues. However, support to help prisoners obtain work, training or education required improvement. Pre release arrangements for prisoners with drug and alcohol problems were good. Arrangements for prisoners with mental health needs were also effective but less so for those with physical health issues. Palliative care arrangements were compassionate. Visits provision was reasonable.

Despite the pressures it was under, the prison was focused on keeping prisoners safe. It was clear that in the period before the inspection safety had been a concern but safety outcomes now compared well with similar prisons we have recently inspected. In common with many prisons, HMP High Down had had a serious problem with the availability of new psychoactive substances, and the associated security and health issues these created. However, a combination of effective treatment and supply reduction strategies and prisoner-delivered education appeared to have reduced the problem and this had contributed to making the prison safer overall.

Reception was efficient but other first night and early days arrangements needed better organisation to ensure prisoners’ basic needs were met. The number of violent incidents was now comparable to similar establishments and to our last inspection but too many prisoners expressed concerns about safety. It was noteworthy, however, that most vulnerable prisoners told us they felt safe, although there had been incidents when their food had been tampered with. The management of individual perpetrators and victims required improvement. The number of self-harm incidents was low and although self-harm prevention processes were not implemented consistently, which may in part have reflected the prison’s reliance on detached duty staff, we saw examples of individual staff providing very compassionate and professional individual care. Security was well managed and generally proportionate. The management and oversight of the use of force was inadequate, record keeping was poor and some incidents were not recorded. Neither we nor the prison could be assured that we understood the overall levels of use of force or that it was always proportionate and necessary.

The segregation unit was reasonable but the regime was poor, although despite this, most prisoners were reintegrated back into the main population. Substance misuse services were good. We saw some exceptional interactions between staff and prisoners, and relationships were generally good, although staff shortages and the reliance on detached duty staff inevitably impacted on this.

Some accommodation was of good standard but the condition of cells in the older units was more variable. Many cells designed for one held two prisoners and some had broken furniture and windows, and inadequately screened toilets. The poor conditions were exacerbated by the very long periods many prisoners spent locked behind their doors. The restricted regime and staffing shortages meant that some prisoners had problems with basic hygiene and domestic needs. New prisoners had to wear prison clothing, much of which was ill-fitting.

Prisoners with protected characteristics spoke positively about the support they received from the equalities officer and equalities orderlies and wing staff who did what they could to support those who needed it. However, the management of equality and diversity issues was weak. Outcomes for prisoners with protected characteristics were out of range in a number of important areas and in our survey, responses from prisoners in these groups were more negative than those from the rest of the population. The prison had done too little to understand and address these concerns, and consultation arrangements were inadequate. There was no carer scheme for disabled or older prisoners which meant that those who needed help had to rely on informal support from other prisoners. We found one prisoner who was relying on another to wash him and prisoners had carried a disabled prisoner down stairs when a lift was out of order so he could attend education. Faith provision was reasonable and chaplains were well integrated into the life of the prison. There had been a vacancy for a full-time Muslim chaplain but this was being filled.

 Health services were good overall but staff shortages resulted in too many appointments being cancelled. Good care was provided on the inpatient unit, but the regime required improvement. Patients on the unit were very positive about the support they received. The pharmacy clinics gave prisoners prompt access to a range of services and so reduced the demand for GP appointments, which was good practice. Primary mental health services had only recently been commissioned and the development of the service had been delayed by difficulties in recruiting staff. Secondary mental health services were better. There were unacceptable delays in transferring prisoners to secure mental health facilities.

There remained a number of areas of serious concern at HMP High Down. The prison management was aware of most of these, and despite serious staffing shortages, credible plans for improvement were being implemented. We saw impressive work by some individual staff. However, there was still a big job to do. It is essential now that vacancies are filled, more activity places are provided and that managers ensure greater consistency in the quality of work done across all areas of the prison.

Nick Hardwick June 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to High Down

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