HMIP Inspection of The Mount

The prison was last visited by HMIP in April 2015. The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their last report the inspectors said:

“The Mount is a training and resettlement prison north of London that at the time of this inspection held 917 adult men. The prison had recently opened a new 250 bed wing – Nash wing – which would hold its resettlement function, and this was being filled as the inspection took place. The Mount was achieving better outcomes for the men it held than most prisons we have visited recently, despite facing similar challenges and despite the disruption caused by its expansion and the imminent transfer of much of its resettlement function to a new Community Resettlement Company.

Outcomes were reasonably good in all the main areas we looked at and there were credible plans for further improvement. The prison was reasonably safe. Prisoners’ perceptions of safety and the number of violent incidents were similar to comparable prisons. The prison felt strikingly calm and well ordered even when large numbers of prisoners were moving back and forth to activities. Security was rigorous and intelligence gathering about gang membership, and cooperation with the local police, were impressive. Reception and early days arrangements were generally good, thanks in large part to the very effective work of well-organised prisoner peer workers – a strength in many areas of the prison.

There were, however, some safety weaknesses. Care for men at risk of suicide or self-harm was generally adequate but some lessons from previous deaths in custody had not been fully embedded. We were concerned that the lack of telephone interpreting for new arrivals who did not speak English created significant risks. Listeners (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to other prisoners) were not sufficiently available. Too many victims of bullying sought sanctuary in the segregation unit and most were then moved out to prisons with insufficient effort to resolve their concerns and reintegrate them back on the wings where appropriate.

Prisoners told us drugs and alcohol were easily available, despite determined efforts by the prison to prevent this. In a few recent incidents remote controlled drones were used to deliver drugs and other illicit items over the wall and the prison was working well with the local police to try to combat further attacks. There was good drug treatment work but this was undermined by the too ready supply of drugs and by the fact that the drug recovery wing held a mix of prisoners, some of whom were not in recovery.

Use of force was high but the incidents we examined were proportionate and well managed. Review arrangements were generally better than we see elsewhere but insufficient attention had been given to the use of batons and high use of the special cell. The environment was good and the prison was clean. Howard wing – about which we had concerns at our last inspection – had much improved. Most prisoners had access to on-wing cooking facilities which they appreciated. Staff were stretched and busy, but relationships were good. The applications system was inconsistent and slow and too many minor issues that should have been sorted out informally were dealt with as formal complaints which created extra work.

Equality and diversity work was led from the top and prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds reported similarly to other prisoners about their experience in the prison. The perceptions of Muslim prisoners had improved since the last inspection.  There had been innovative joint events for staff and prisoners to discuss issues around cultural awareness, and the proactive Muslim chaplain offered staff opportunities to speak to him in private if they had questions about Islamic faith and festivals. However, problems for non-English speakers that were an issue during reception also affected other aspects of prison life for these men. Provision of adapted cells and well-supervised prisoner carers supported men with disabilities, but not all men who needed assistance were identified. Like other areas of the prison, health services were in transition as a new NHS Trust had begun providing services shortly before the inspection. Prisoners’ views about health services were mixed but we found them to be reasonably good, although some improvements were required (see Appendix III). Medicines management was poor, there were long queues and some older prisoners struggled to obtain what they required each day.

Despite staff shortages and a restricted regime, time out of cell was reasonable and consistent. Ofsted assessed the overall effectiveness of learning and skills and work as good. There was a welcome emphasis on ensuring prisoners had basic maths and English skills. Library and PE provision were also good. Nevertheless, at the time of this inspection there were simply not enough activity places for the population and allocation processes were not sufficiently linked to prisoners’ needs and aspirations. We found more than a quarter of prisoners locked up during the working day. However, plans to increase the amount of provision were well advanced.

Existing practical resettlement services were reasonably good but new resettlement arrangements were due to start two weeks after the inspection ended. Under the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ plans a new community resettlement company (CRC) led by Serco would take over most of the prison’s resettlement services. Although the start of the new arrangements was imminent there was still a good deal of uncertainty about how they would work. Most prisoners who were ‘in scope’ of the new arrangements – those serving short sentences or with only three months left to serve – were held on the new Nash wing and while this appeared to provide a good location for resettlement services to be organised and provided, we were not assured they would be ready on time. How the resettlement needs of other prisoners would be met was much less clear.

Offender management arrangements were reasonable, but prisoners were justifiably frustrated by the lack of face to face contact with their offender supervisors. Public protection arrangements were very good. Health and substance misuse services which would not pass to the CRC were also good. Our recent joint resettlement thematic, Resettlement provision for adult offenders: Accommodation and education, training and employment1, demonstrated the crucial role of families in the resettlement process. Family work at The Mount was weak. The use of family support workers and parenting courses had been discontinued.There was insufficient visits provision and the visits centre was a poor facility.

There is room for improvement at The Mount and we are confident the prison has the capacity to make it, but even now the prison is doing better than comparable prisons. There are some key reasons for this: the prison is very well led with a stable senior management team; the regime and staff are consistent – prisoners know what to expect; and there is excellent use made of peer workers. There is much that other prisons can learn from The Mount.


Nick Hardwick August 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

 Return to The Mount 

To read the full reports follow the links below