HMIP Inspection of Thameside

The prison was given an inspection in autumn 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 Thameside is a new establishment that opened in early 2012. Located adjacent to HMP Belmarsh and HMP Isis, it is a local prison serving East London courts and is run by the private operator Serco. The prison currently holds up to 900 adult and young adults and both convicted and remand prisoners, although this number is set to increase when new accommodation, which is currently being built, opens.

We first inspected Thameside about nine months after it first opened, sooner than we would usually have done, but we were responding to concerns we had about the establishment at the time. We described our findings then as mixed, with improvement required across most aspects of the prison. We commented on the challenges managers and staff faced in bringing stability to the prison, evidenced in particular by the near lockdown restriction that they had in place at the time, largely as a response to violence. Our findings at this inspection, 20 months later, describe a prison that has made considerable progress, with improvement evident across all of our healthy prison tests.

Thameside continued to face significant operational challenges but work to promote safety was very promising. The prison managed about 1,500 movements through its reception each month and arrangements to manage new arrivals had been streamlined and improved. We were confident that attention was properly paid to the potential issues of risk on arrival and there was some good use of peer support. First night cells were properly prepared and induction arrangements were comprehensive.

As we found at our last inspection, levels of violence remained high and yet in our survey prisoners reported positively, and better than in similar establishments, about their feelings and perceptions of safety. The prison was working hard to better understand the challenges of bullying and violence, and was undertaking useful initiatives, including work to tackle gang affiliations, to improve the situation. Consultation with prisoners about the problem of violence was meaningful and the prison was also ensuring that vulnerable prisoners were protected from victimisation.

Work to protect those at risk of self-harm was reasonably good and case anagement of those at risk had improved. Tragically, there had been a self-inflicted death since we last visited, but the prison was working to implement the recommendations of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman who had investigated the death. Prisoners in crisis who we spoke to felt well cared for.

Security in the prison was now more proportionate and the near lockdown we observed at our last visit had ceased. Free movement to activities was well supervised and prisoners could now dine in association. Random drug testing suggested illicit drug use was relatively low, although we did identify gaps in the coverage provided by testing. We also identified too much routine strip-searching in the absence of intelligence, or individual risk assessment, to justify the measure. Use of force and the number of disciplinary adjudications was high: both had increased considerably since the last inspection and were reflective of the significant number of violent incidents. About half of all use of force incidents involved the full use of restraint techniques and we were concerned that the supervision of force was not sufficiently robust or accountable. Use of segregation was similarly high, but stays were generally short with most prisoners reintegrated. The segregation environment was reasonable and most prisoners had access to basic amenities, but routines were otherwise limited.

Thameside was a respectful prison. The environment was well maintained and the accommodation was among the best we have seen in any local prison. The improved use of in cell technology was having a real impact in improving communication and in allowing prisoners to take responsibility for their own lives. Relationships between staff and prisoners remained a strength and the inexperienced staff we witnessed at our last inspection had grown in both confidence and competence. Consultation with prisoners was afforded a high priority and prisoners felt their voices were heard.

After some neglect the promotion of equality was beginning to improve. There was now a clear policy and a senior manager had been identified as a lead for each protected characteristic. Consultation was improving but the newness of much of what was being done meant that outcomes for minority groups still remained variable. Exceptions included the very good work to support foreign national prisoners. Health provision was in the process of significant change but overall outcomes were good.

The amount of time prisoners experienced out of cell was reasonable at between four and eight hours, depending on their employment status, and association was available daily, although evening lock up was too early. The management of learning and skills provision was improving, although more improvement was needed. There remained too few activity places and despite some reasonable allocation procedures attendance at what was available was not maximised. About 350 prisoners, approximately a third of the population, had no activity at all. The range of education was adequate but there was little vocational training and work opportunities were limited. More provision was planned but this was likely only to be sufficient to meet the needs of the rising population when the new accommodation opened. Both the quality of provision and the achievements of learners were too variable and too many prisoners failed to complete courses of study, although the introduction of shorter modules was leading to some improvement.

The prison had useful structures in place to manage its resettlement strategy, although the assessment of need was narrow and links to, and support from, offender managers in the community was weak. The offender management caseloads in the prison were manageable but contact between supervisors and prisoners were too often infrequent and reactive. Assessment of the likelihood of reoffending and risk of harm also needed to improve. Public protection arrangements were generally sound but processes to categorise and allocate prisoners onward to training prisons were too slow, meaning that some prisoners spent too long or were retained inappropriately at Thameside. Resettlement need was assessed efficiently on arrival at the prison but pre-release follow up was weaker. Provision across the resettlement pathways was generally good with some useful outcomes for prisoners, particularly in support of contact with children and families.

Opening a new prison is difficult but Thameside was comprehensively better than the establishment we inspected in 2012 and was now arguably one of the better local prisons in the capital. The problem of violence an but managers and staff were actively addressing these challenges. Facilities and the prison environment were very good; we found a respectful staff culture and there were some good initiatives to engage with and consult prisoners. It is clear that a considerable amount of work has been undertaken and there has been progress on a broad front. 

Nick Hardwick                                   January 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Thameside

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

  • HMP Thameside, Report on an announced inspection of HMP Thameside (1 – 5 September 2014)
  • HMP Thameside, Unannounced inspection of HMP Thameside (14–17 January 2013)