HMIP Inspections of Blantyre House

The prison was last inspected in 2013, and the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their report the inspectors said:

“Blantyre House is small, semi-open resettlement prison in Kent, holding category C and D prisoners who are coming to the end of indeterminate sentences or fixed term sentences of four years or more, and are being prepared for release back into the community. Our last inspection in 2010 found that outcomes for prisoners were good in all areas and I described it as ‘one of the jewels in the Prison Service crown’. Outcomes in this inspection were less good – although the prison still compared well with similar establishments.

In 2010 the prison had been able to select the prisoners it held and was able to tailor its services to meet a significant but narrow range of needs. At the time of this inspection, a central unit made the allocations and Blantyre House could no longer select the men it held. As a consequence, the prison was holding men who presented a wider range of needs and risks than before – including a big increase in those serving indeterminate sentences – but its work and resources had not been sufficiently adjusted to meet these new requirements.

The primary purpose of the prison was resettlement, but the prison had not assessed how the needs of its new population had changed from those it held before. Contact between offender supervisors and prisoners was good, but was not sufficiently structured or focused on reducing reoffending.

Public protection work was insufficiently robust, although the number of prisoners subject to such arrangements had increased. Nevertheless, most practical resettlement arrangements were effective.

The release of prisoners on temporary licence (ROTL) was a critical part of the rehabilitation process. ROTL allowed men to adjust to a world that had sometimes changed very much since they had begun their sentence, make contact with friends and family and make other arrangements for their release. For men at Blantyre House, ROTL should also have provided the opportunity to take part in unpaid and paid work in the community. ROTL was well used for most purposes and overall the risks involved were properly assessed. However, there was insufficient multi-agency engagement in managing the risks of those released.

Some prisoners who would have benefited from ROTL did not do so because they did not have the funds to meet the travel and other costs involved. We were particularly concerned that men who were assessed as suitable for ROTL and would have benefited from the opportunity to gain unpaid or paid work in the community were unable to do so.

There were too few places available and efforts to assist prisoners in finding something suitable by information, advice and guidance (IAG) were lacklustre. This was compounded by insufficient training and employment opportunities inside the prison. At a time when men should have been acquiring the skills, habits and experience they needed to get a job on release, too many were hanging about in the prison, bored and with nothing meaningful to do.

Few prisoners felt unsafe. There was very little use of formal disciplinary processes or force but prisoners whose behaviour gave cause for concern were quickly and properly sent back to closed conditions. There was also very little self-harm but a self-inflicted death shortly before the inspection, the first in the establishment, underlined that there was no room for complacency. The number of violent incidents had increased since the last inspection and there had been two recent serious assaults. Although the level was still low, more prisoners reported victimisation than at the last inspection and at similar establishments. This appeared, at least in part, to be due to the availability of ‘Spice’ – a synthetic cannabinoid – and associated debt and bullying. Current testing methods did not detect Spice, so the very low positive drug testing rate did not give an accurate picture of the availability of drugs in the prison. The prison’s response to the issue was inadequate.

Despite the shortcomings we identified, most prisoners still had a safe, respectful and productive experience at Blantyre House. This was largely due to the excellent staff-prisoner relationships that underpinned much of the work of the prison and made good its procedural deficiencies. Staff knew prisoners well and most problems could be sorted out without recourse to formal procedures. The environment was decent and prisoners had very good time out of their rooms. Very good health care was provided by impressive staff. Most outcomes for minority groups were reasonable and black and minority ethnic prisoners reported more positively than we usually see. However, some processes were too casual.

Blantyre House still retains many of the strengths we have identified in the past. In particular, its small size means there is an opportunity for its experienced staff to get to know prisoners well and address their needs and behaviour in a personalised way that is simply not possible in larger establishments. Those strengths should be advantages in dealing with the wider and more complex range of needs among the prisoners Blantyre House now holds – but neither the prison nor the wider Prison Service have yet got fully to grips with the changes that are required to meet these needs or the resources necessary to make them.

Nick Hardwick               December 2013

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

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To read the full reports follow the links below:


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