HMIP Reports, Portland

The prison was given an inspection in Summer 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:

“Originally built in 1848, HMP Portland is a category C training prison holding a mix of young adult and adult male prisoners in Dorset. With a population of just under 600 prisoners, both prisoner groups were well integrated across the prison’s seven accommodation wings. Portland aimed to accept prisoners from within the region and resettle them, but due to national population pressures, many overcrowding drafts from outside of the area were being accommodated and this was problematic. This was our first full inspection since 2009, although we did visit the prison briefly in early 2012.

In 2009 we inspected a prison that was ensuring reasonable provision for prisoners and our subsequent follow-up visit three years later, confirmed the prison was progressing well. Our findings at this inspection were more mixed and reflected the operational challenges the prison was facing. These included the age and offence profile of the prisoners held and consequent risks being managed, the pressures of overcrowding, the age of the infrastructure, and the limitations of the regime. All were significant, and all were factors that were inevitably impacting the quality of outcomes prisoners experienced.

Portland was a fundamentally safe prison. Good attention had been given to how prisoners were received into the prison. Reception processes were swift and first night arrangements properly focused on risk. We saw some impressive early engagement by staff, supported by some helpful prisoner peer workers. However, induction was less effective and required improvement. The levels of recorded violence were not high for such a population, but the prison had only recently started to improve its approach to indentifying bullying and investigation of such incidents was minimal. We were concerned about the inadequacy of support afforded to vulnerable prisoners, seven of whom were co-located with other prisoners. These prisoners were left isolated, inadequately supervised and were experiencing severely limited access to the services they needed.

Tragically, since our last inspection, there had been three self-inflicted deaths. These deaths had been investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman but we were not assured that recommendations made in those investigations had been properly implemented. Levels of self-harm generally were low but the case management of those in self-harm crisis was poor and the prisoners at risk we spoke to had very mixed views about the level of care they received, much of which seemed to be brief and intermittent.

Some security arrangements were quite restrictive for a category C training prison but plans to ensure greater proportionality in the application of routines and rules were well advanced. Use of disciplinary procedures, including the use of force, was not excessive and the use of segregation was low. Management of, and support for, prisoners with substance misuse issues had worsened since our last inspection, in part as a consequence of staff shortages and increased demand.

Random drug testing suggested drug usage was low but there was emergent evidence about the apparent ready availability of psychoactive substances such as Spice which were not easily detectable. A number of prisoners had experienced adverse and worrying reactions after taking such substances.

Most accommodation was old and inadequately maintained. Many cells were small and extremely cramped. During the inspection we experienced a heat wave, where we were able to see the consequences for prisoners spending long periods in hot cramped cells, although to their credit with little reaction or incident. Relationships between staff and prisoners were reasonable but staff on larger wings struggled to engage constructively with prisoners due to other pressures on their time.

Promotion of equality and diversity was weak but faith needs were supported appropriately. Health services met only basic needs and required improvement and prisoners were dissatisfied with the food. Purposeful activity and the provision of education and training and employment, was poor, impacting and undermining the purpose of the establishment and the experience of the majority of prisoners at Portland.

Our colleagues in Ofsted assessed the overall effectiveness of learning and skills provision as ‘inadequate’. There was sufficient activity for just three-quarters of the population and what was available was not used well: we found just 60% participation from prisoners. Attendance and punctuality was also poor. The quality of teaching was variable but better in vocational training. Prisoner achievements were not good enough despite some recent evidence of some improvement. The prison’s inability to direct prisoners to work or learning meant that far too many remained on the wings where supervision was limited. During our checks we found 30% of prisoners locked in cell during the working day.

Arrangements for the resettlement of prisoners were also limited. Reducing reoffending and offender management policies were in place but were not based on any recent assessment of need. Too many prisoners were without an up to date OASys and in some cases had inadequate contact with their offender supervisors. Too often assessments were not sufficiently focused on reducing the risk of reoffending, which was not helped by the lack of appropriate offending behaviour programmes at Portland. Provision under the other resettlement pathways was, however, mostly reasonable.

This is a mixed report and contains significant criticisms under all of our healthy prison assessments. Learning from PPO investigations certainly required greater attention and the lack of meaningful activity was a real concern. However, there was some more impressive work and evidence of some progress. The population mix was challenging but staff were experienced and trying hard to support prisoners and challenge poor behaviour, although the lack of purposeful activity undermined their endeavours. I believe that if Portland fully implements the working prison model, as intended, many of the issues and inadequacies we found will be mitigated and will potentially improve significantly.

Nick Hardwick                                   December 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Portland

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

  • HMP & YOI Portland, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Portland (14 – 24 July 2014)
  • HMP/YOI Portland, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP/YOI Portland (3 – 5 April 2012)
  • HMYOI Portland, Announced inspection of HMYOI Portland (6-10 July 2009)