HMIP Inspection, Holme House

The prison was given an inspection in summer 2013, 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 Holme House is a large local and training prison close to Stockton-on-Tees. At the time of this inspection it held about 1,150 prisoners, most of whom were category C sentenced adult men. The prison also held a small number of category B men, including those on remand, and category D prisoners and young adults. Our last inspection in 2010 was broadly positive, although the prison faced some significant challenges. This inspection found a similar picture – largely positive findings with some significant exceptions. At the time of the inspection, these exceptions were exacerbated by the disruption arising from the implementation of the Prison Service ‘benchmarking’ exercise and the new staffing profiles this entailed. However, we identified some significant improvements since the last inspection and the prison had some areas of real strength.

Levels of violence were low and most prisoners felt safe. The care for prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm was good and there were few self-harm incidents. Discipline arrangements were, with a small number of exceptions, satisfactory and the use of force was low. Segregation was not used excessively and mostly for short periods; the regime for longer stay prisoners required development.

At our last inspection the prison had a major problem with the misuse of drugs. There had been significant improvements but these needed to be sustained. There was a robust supply reduction strategy. Fewer prisoners than at the last inspection said they had developed a drug problem in the prison and positive random drug test results were lower than in comparable prisons. However, we were concerned to be told that suspicion tests were not completed because of staff shortages. The treatment of those with substance misuse problems had also improved. Over a quarter of the men held were on methadone during the inspection and 90% were on reducing doses. The psychosocial team was working with over 400 prisoners. The therapeutic community continued to play an important part in the treatment of some of these men but we were concerned that some planned changes might undermine an effective therapeutic approach.

Staff-prisoner relationships had improved considerably since the last inspection and more prisoners than in comparable prisons said staff treated them with respect. Some relationships were distant and supervision was inadequate on some occasions. The complaints system was better than we see elsewhere. The overall quality of health care had much improved. About a third of prisoners told us they had mental health problems. Mental health services were very good, most officers had been trained in mental health awareness and the practice of accepting mental health referrals before a prisoner arrived in the prison was good practice and meant that the appropriate care could be quickly put in place.

Most prisoners were involved in purposeful activity during the day and Ofsted rated the provision as ‘good’. There was a range of activities on offer and this was tailored to the needs of the population. The prison had successfully introduced the ‘working prison’ model in four workshops and prisoners there had a normal working day. However, association was much too limited and this left prisoners too little time to attend to domestic and other personal needs; this was particularly so for some vulnerable prisoners.

Resettlement and rehabilitation planning was weak. Offender management was not sufficiently central to the work of the prison and practical resettlement services were badly coordinated and too few prisoners knew where to go for help. Despite this, individual resettlement agencies worked hard, and generally successfully, to identify prisoners who needed their services. The actual services, such as help with housing, jobs, health care (including excellent palliative care support) and support for prisoners with substance misuse issues were good. Children and family work was particularly good. Visit arrangements were generally satisfactory and the North East Prison After Care Service (NEPACS) provided particularly good support to prisoners’ families.

There were three significant exceptions to this generally positive picture. First, there had been five self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection and there have been what appear to be two further self inflicted deaths since this inspection. At the time of this inspection although care for those identified as at risk of suicide or self-harm was good, there was a real danger that poor first night safety assessments meant that those who needed support might be missed. Furthermore, if a prisoner was anxious or despairing when they first arrived, those feelings were not likely to have been assuaged by dirty first night cells with broken equipment which were among the worst I have seen. There was little organised support from staff or prisoner peer mentors for those who were new to prison. The experience for some new vulnerable prisoners was even worse and they were often located on an overflow landing on the block holding mainstream new arrivals and so had very limited opportunities to come out of their cells. There had been good learning from the previous self-inflicted deaths but some of this had not been sustained.

Second, the poor conditions prisoners experienced when they first arrived in the prison continued throughout much of their stay. Some prisoners shared cells designed for one which were far too small. Toilets were inadequately screened and prisoners had to eat all their meals in their cell. Many cells were dirty. Many had broken equipment and were covered in offensive graffiti. The offensive display policy was not enforced. Some cells stank. Limited association time meant that prisoners had little time to attend to their personal needs. They struggled to access cleaning materials, clean clothing and bedding. The laundry arrangements were chaotic and prisoners with access to money resorted to paying laundry orderlies to get their washing done and then return their clothing to them. When prisoners were let out of their cells there were insufficient phones and showers to meet demand and queues were badly supervised.

Third, the needs of prisoners with protected characteristics were not sufficiently identified or met. There was only limited monitoring and no consultation groups that might have helped the prison identify need or provided support. The relatively small numbers of prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds did not complain of discrimination but felt isolated. Too often foreign national prisoners and those with disabilities were left to fend for themselves with inadequate formal support. Staff still refused to push prisoners in wheelchairs. This lack of formal support made these prisoners reliant on favours and informal support from other prisoners and this put them at risk of bullying. Very little thought had been given to the distinct needs of the older prisoners and the young adults the prison held. The prison had no idea how many gay and bisexual or gypsy and traveller prisoners it held.

Holme House faces significant challenges and has to make a difficult transition to the new working arrangements its benchmarked staffing levels require. Despite these challenges, important progress has been made since the last inspection. Ensuring adequate first night arrangements, that prisoners can deal with their basic personal needs and that all prisoners, whatever their characteristic, receive equitable outcomes, are key priorities for the future.

Nick Hardwick

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons           January 2014″

Return to Holme House

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

  • HMP Holme House, Unannounced inspection of HMP Holme House (19–30 August 2013)
  • HMP Holme House, Full unannounced inspection of HMP Holme House (19–23 July 2010)
  • HMP Holme House, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Holme House (16-18 March 2009)