HMIP Inspections of HMP Northumberland

The prison was given an inspection in September 2014, 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 Northumberland is a category C training prison formed from the amalgamation of Acklington prison and Castington young offender institution (YOI) in 2011. The two former institutions have been physically and organisationally connected to create a very large site holding over 1,300 mainstream adult male prisoners. The prison incorporates a significant vulnerable prisoner population, held separately, mainly as a consequence of their sex offending history. In late 2013, following a competitive process, the establishment, which had been managed in the public sector, was taken over by the private sector provider, Sodexo. When we inspected Northumberland in September 2014, the prison was concluding the transition process to the new provider, which had begun about 10 months previously.

At our last inspection we found a prison that we described as reasonably safe and respectful but that needed to do more to improve the provision of purposeful activity and resettlement services. At this inspection, though we were aware of the challenges following a significant transition process, our findings were similar, although we discerned some deterioration in safety outcomes.

Northumberland is a relatively remote prison holding prisoners mainly from the North East, but almost a third of prisoners sent there were from the North West. Many told us they did not want to be held that far from home and some behaved in a way that would result in segregation, in an attempt to force a transfer. These undercurrents of discontent were a recurring theme during our inspection and an ongoing risk to the stability of the prison. We were not assured that all prisoners who arrived at the prison received a thorough initial risk assessment or induction. As the induction wings were also used to hold established prisoners who had other problems that caused them to seek sanctuary away from their normal location, this distracted from the main purpose of the wings to receive and settle new arrivals.

In our surveys, prisoners indicated that they felt less safe at Northumberland than at comparable prisons. Recorded assaults were high and there was some evidence of under-reporting. Work to confront bullying and violence lacked rigour and we were also concerned about the number of nonsex offender prisoners held on the vulnerable prisoner wings, largely because of threats they had experienced on normal location. There was evidence that they, in turn, had become the bullies on the vulnerable prisoner wings.

There had been three self-inflicted deaths since we last inspected in 2012 and the prison had been monitoring implementation of recommendations following the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s investigations into these tragedies, but latterly this scrutiny had lapsed. The number of prisoners subject to case management because they were at risk of self-harm was relatively low and the quality of care they received was good. The application of security measures was generally proportionate but too many prisoners felt it was easy to obtain illicit drugs or alcohol in the prison and random drug testing suggested drug usage was high. Work to support prisoners trying to confront their drug problem was, despite this, generally very good. The use of disciplinary measures, use of force and the segregation of prisoners were all reasonably low for this type of prison, but all required improved supervision or governance to ensure better outcomes.

The prison was very large and the composition of accommodation and quality of accommodation varied greatly. However, all prisoners had their own room, which they appreciated. The introduction of an electronic IT kiosk system to help prisoners manage applications and communications within the prison was a useful innovation. Most prisoners felt staff treated them with respect and the prison had introduced regular prisoner consultation, although we were not yet confident that this was fully effective. Work to promote equality was fragmented and under-resourced. The prison was weak at identifying prisoners with protected characteristics or monitoring the access that those from minority groups had to elements of the prisons regime. The quality of health care was generally good.

The time prisoners spent unlocked varied but was reasonable for those fully employed. However, during checks, we found about a third of the population locked in cell during the working day, which for a training prison was very poor. In total there were just under 1,000 activity places, sufficient for only about 75% of the population. The range of activity available was adequate apart from vocational training which was too limited. Learning facilities, the quality of teaching and learner achievements were all reasonably good for those who actually accessed work or learning, and there were developing plans to increase the amount of commercial work available. Attendance and punctuality at work or education was not good enough.

The prison had well defined policies and governance structures to oversee its resettlement work but we were less assured about the effectiveness of implementation. There was no up-to-date assessment of need on which to base commissioning decisions, particularly concerning the substantial sex offender and indeterminate sentence populations, for the management of whom Northumberland was meant to be a designated national resource. This supposed function seemed illdefined to us. Most prisoners were subject to formal offender management, and well over half were considered high or very high risk of harm. Too few prisoners, however, felt engaged by the sentence planning process and too many arrived without an offender assessment. Case loads for supervisors were too great and the quality of sentence and risk management plans was often insufficient.

Northumberland discharged about 80 prisoners each month but many received no overall review or assessment of their reintegration needs prior to release and in our survey only 11% felt a member of staff had helped them prepare. Despite this, provision across the resettlement pathways was reasonable.

The prison now approaches its fourth year of ongoing change, most of it very significant. The new providers appeared to have established themselves in the prison and there seemed to be a renewed focus on actual service delivery. However, overall this is a fairly critical report. Safety outcomes have worsened but in most other respects it would be true to say the prison has yet to start improving. The prison lacked a clear sense of purpose: it was a training prison without enough activity; it held many prisoners far from home; and it was a resource for indeterminate prisoners and sex offenders without any particular attention to their needs. Better safety outcomes, high quality work and training opportunities, and a clarification of role should be the prison’s priorities.


Nick Hardwick                       January 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Northumberland

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

  • HMP Northumberland, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Northumberland (1 – 12 September 2014)
  • HMP Northumberland, Unannounced inspection of HMP Northumberland (11-15 June 2012)