HMP North Sea Camp, HMIP Inspections

The prison was last inspected in July 2014 At the last inspection the report summary said:

“HMP North Sea Camp is an open prison near Boston in Lincolnshire. The prison holds a complex population of about 400 men, most of whom are coming to the end of long sentences. At the time of the inspection, 60% were serving indeterminate sentences, almost half were assessed as posing a high risk of harm and almost half were sex offenders. Nearly all were subject to multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). The important task of the prison was to test these men’s readiness for release and to prepare them for it.

A vital tool for the prison’s work should have been the use of release on temporary licence (ROTL) which, when properly managed, provides a means to carefully test a prisoner as they gradually experience work, rehabilitation services, the wider community and family relationships outside the prison. We know that ROTL assists the rehabilitation process and the failure rates nationally are very low – in 2012–13 less than 1% of all releases on temporary licence were recorded as failures and the proportion of failures that led to an arrestable offence were 6.7%, or less than seven in every 100,000 releases. However, in the summer of 2013 there were a series of catastrophic ROTL failures when serious offences were committed. The Justice Secretary asked me to review the circumstances of three of those cases. I submitted my report to him in January 2014 and that report will be published once the criminal trials of the men involved have been concluded. However, it was clear that the process had become slack, ROTL had come to be seen as an automatic entitlement rather than a carefully controlled privilege and there were insufficient appropriately trained and supervised staff in the prisons concerned to safely manage a population that was becoming more complex.

As the number of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for public protection and who were reaching the end of their tariffs grew, so did the number of prisoners who became eligible for ROTL. The Justice Secretary quickly accepted all my recommendations and has instigated further changes; as a result we have already begun to see ROTL processes improve nationally.

One of the most serious cases I reviewed had occurred at North Sea Camp and the consequences of that failure had profound effects on the prison. At the time of this inspection ROTL processes at North Sea Camp had improved and were much safer, but the prison was struggling to manage the extra work involved and these pressures were exacerbated by major staff shortages in the offender management unit which should have been at the heart of the process. Only seven out of 19 offender supervisor posts were filled, there was just one member of the psychology team (although this was due to increase to six), only two out of nine probation posts were filled and the head of public protection post was vacant. Despite these challenges, there was a reasonably good resettlement strategy, public protection work had correctly been prioritised and ROTL processes were being completed correctly.

The Jubilee Units, former staff quarters just outside the prison, were an excellent resource which allowed carefully selected prisoners to live as independently as possible while still under the supervision of officers. Prisoners in the units shopped and catered for themselves, often for the first time in many years, and went to work in placements out in the community. However, the offender management unit simply could not cope with demand and often felt as through it was under siege from prisoners who wanted help and advice about the completion of their sentences but could not get a response from over-stretched staff. The prison could not safely process all the required ROTL applications and therefore prisoners who would have appropriately benefited from resettlement opportunities outside the prison were unable to take up these opportunities, or were significantly delayed in doing so.

The lack of reassurance and information about offender management processes and the anxiety many men felt in open conditions after years in closed prisons undoubtedly contributed to the poor perceptions of safety we recorded in our survey. However, prisoners also reported higher levels of bullying than we see in similar establishments and the prison was not doing enough to understand and address prisoners’ concerns.

Security arrangements were generally good and alcohol was less easily available than in some other open prisons. However, despite low drug testing rates, there was a significant problem with the availability of new psychoactive substances such as ‘Black Mamba’, which was not detectable with current methods, and the diversion of prescribed medication. However, despite these challenges, the prison was reasonably safe overall. There was very little self-harm, but assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management processes for prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm needed tightening up. Discipline measures were proportionate, and there was very little use of force and no segregation unit.

Prisoners reported good relationships with staff and the needs of minority groups were generally met reasonably well. In the prison as a whole, staff were stretched and responses to applications and other domestic processes were slow. However, the excellent prisoner advice centre, staffed by prisoner peer workers and open seven days a week, provided very good information and support to prisoners on a wide range of issues and appropriately took pressure off staff. Health services were good and the food, which used fresh produce from the prison’s farm, was the best we have seen in any prison for a long time. The external environment was very good but some of the older units with dormitories were shabby and worn.

Prisoners were not locked in their rooms or dormitories and had access around the camp for most of the day. Although it took longer than in the past for prisoners to obtain an external work placement on ROTL, the prison had made up the shortfall and there were sufficient activity places in the prison. The prison had a clear learning, skills and work strategy but this was still work in progress. The quality of teaching and learning was good. However, not enough prisoners gained qualifications. Over half of the population was engaged in a prison job or training for which there was no opportunity to receive accreditation or any other form of recognition for the vocational and employability skills they acquired. The number of work experience and education placements in the community was too few for the number of prisoners risk-assessed as suitable and the range of placements available did not sufficiently build on what was available in the prison or on preparing prisoners for employment on release.

At the time of this inspection North Sea Camp was recovering from a difficult period. In view of its staff shortages, it had got its priorities right and was concentrating on making sure the men it held were managed safely while they were in the prison. However, the progress it has made needs to continue so that it does more, not just to hold men safely during their sentence, but to reduce the risk they pose of reoffending after release.

Nick Hardwick

November 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to North Sea Camp

To read the full reports follow the links below:

  • HMP North Sea Camp Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP North Sea Camp (14 – 25 July 2014)
  • HMP North Sea Camp Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP North Sea Camp (16 – 18 April 2012)
  • HMP North Sea Camp Announced inspection of HMP North Sea Camp (11-15 May 2009)