HMIP Inspections, Standford Hill

The prison was given an unannounced inspection in summer 2015. The full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In his report the inspector said:

HMP Standford Hill is an open prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which was previously jointly managed as part of a ‘cluster’ of Isle of Sheppey prisons. While some services continue to be shared, the prison is now independent and has its own governor. At the time of this unannounced inspection the prison held 456 adult men, nearly all of whom were coming to the end of a long prison sentence, or nearing the expiry of a life sentence tariff. The number of prisoners with indeterminate sentences for public protection had increased significantly since the last inspection, and nearly all of these men were now well beyond their tariff expiry date.

At the previous inspection in December 2011 we were told by a member of staff that Standford Hill was ‘not a resettlement prison but an open prison with a resettlement department’. We agreed, and despite some good work to resettle prisoners, resettlement work was fragmented and inconsistent. At this inspection we found a much improved prison where preparing men for release and resettling them back into the community was at the core of nearly everything that happened at the establishment.

Fundamental to a successful resettlement prison is that prisoners feel safe and secure. This was the case at Standford Hill, where we found that early days support on arrival at the prison was good, levels of violence were low and arrangements to manage poor behaviour, when it happened, were strong. Most problems were resolved informally without recourse to disciplinary measures, and prisoners clearly felt that they had a personal investment in following the prison’s rules and something important to lose if they transgressed. Security arrangements were appropriate to an open prison and robust, while supporting resettlement work. The small number of prisoners who were vulnerable to self-harm were well supported, and substance misuse services were good. The challenges with illicit drugs and use of alcohol were well managed, which was a significant achievement given the large number of men working out of the prison each day.

The living environment was clean and decent, although some residential units were overly institutional in appearance and not particularly conducive to an ‘open’ prison environment. More work needed to be done to understand the concerns of some black and minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners, and to look at why their outcomes in some areas were consistently poorer than those of white prisoners. There also needed to be a more proactive approach in encouraging a culture where gay and bisexual men felt safe to come out.

Complaints were well managed and health services were reasonably good, although the condition of the health care building was poor and needed urgent repair. The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners had improved overall, and some staff were excellent. The personal officer scheme had been re-launched and was starting to have a positive impact, but some wing-based staff remained too passive and distant in their interactions with prisoners, which wasted a valuable opportunity to provide further support for the resettlement aims of individuals and the prison as a whole. Managers had recognised this and had instituted a process to develop an accredited ‘enabling environment’ which aimed to further improve the quality of relationships.

Learning and skills provision was very good. All prisoners were occupied in some good education and work places within the prison, and over half of prisoners benefited from an excellent range of educational and work placements in the community. It was notable that around 10% of those prisoners temporarily released from the prison were in paid employment. There were a small number of areas within purposeful activity that needed attention – punctuality needed to improve and some opportunities to accredit work were not being utilised – but overall the picture was very positive.

Resettlement services had improved and we now felt that the focus of the prison was firmly on the successful resettlement of prisoners back into the community on release. The number of releases on temporary licence (ROTL) was very high, and the processes to risk assess these was suitably robust and reflected recent improvements to ROTL assessment rules. It was remarkable that over 23,000 ROTL events involving 3,728 prisoners had taken place in the six months prior to the inspection. Failures to return, absconds and returns to closed conditions had all decreased over the same period, which was testament to the careful risk assessment work being undertaken. Offender management work was mostly good and some reasonable support was being offered to prisoners with indeterminate sentences. While public protection arrangements generally provided reassurance, some internal processes and multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) needed better coordination. Support in the resettlement pathways was good and ROTL supported some strong work to help prisoners maintain essential contact with family and friends. The new community rehabilitation company1 (CRC) arrangements, which supported some aspects of through-the-gate work, were still bedding in and it was too early to say if they would further enhance what was already offered.

Standford Hill had made significant progress since our last inspection against all of our healthy prison tests, most notably in putting resettlement work at the heart of the prison. The prison was very well led, and we had confidence that it would continue to progress. 

Nick Hardwick September 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

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To read the full reports follow the links below:

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