HMIP Reports, HMP Bristol

The prison was given an inspection in September 2020. 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:

This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Bristol and reports  on the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bristol is a category B local and resettlement prison holding approximately 500 young and adult male prisoners.

Following our most recent inspection of Bristol, in  May – June 2019, I was so concerned at the outcomes we observed that I wrote to the Secretary of State on 11 June 2019 invoking the Urgent Notification (UN) process. That inspection was, at the time, the latest in a series of visits to Bristol where we had reported on declining standards and either poor or insufficiently good outcomes across all our tests of a healthy prison. At the time, and following our protocol with the Ministry of Justice, the Secretary of State responded publicly to the UN, explaining how outcomes for those detained would be improved. A scrutiny visit does not have the scope or capacity to fully follow up a situation such as this one, but I am pleased to report that we saw enough to be confident that, in our view, Bristol was a much-improved institution.

We found a now well-led establishment that had taken a more thoughtful approach to regime restrictions than we have seen in other prisons. Given the high levels of suicide and self-harm in the prison, appropriate care had been taken to balance the risk of the virus against the impact on prisoners’ mental well-being of a very restricted regime. Within the limitations of the national restrictions, the governor had used some local initiative to keep activities open and maximise time unlocked,  which had reduced prisoners’ frustration. Although the time prisoners could spend outside their cells was limited for some to a minimum of one hour 45 minutes a day, almost half the prisoners were out for considerably longer, engaging in a variety of purposeful activities  .

All workshops had remained open during the pandemic, albeit with reduced numbers to enable safe social distancing. A proactive group of PE staff had provided frequent access to structured outside physical activity throughout the period. The new and impressive education facility had very recently reopened to allow small groups of prisoners to access direct learning. Good use was made of peer mentors to provide   support, and prisoner work parties had continued to improve living conditions and the cleanliness of the environment.

These efforts to maximise the time that prisoners could be unlocked and engaged in activity were underpinned by a robust approach to cleanliness and social distancing. We saw effective social distancing by prisoners and staff, despite staff reporting in our survey that it was difficult to do so. Communal areas were cleaned frequently by trained ‘COVID cleaners’ and there were hand sanitising stations at the entrance to buildings to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus.

There had been no confirmed COVID-19 cases  among prisoners since the start of the pandemic. The management team had applied appropriate restrictions to manage the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus and had implemented quarantine and shielding arrangements in accordance with national directives.

Strategic and partnership meetings and various initiatives had not been suspended at the start of regime restrictions as we have found in some other prisons. On the contrary, a dynamic and motivated management team had maintained good oversight and taken the opportunity to innovate during this period. There was evidence of recent improvements  in important areas of safety, respect and purposeful activity.

Managerial oversight and governance of safety were very good. A significant effort had been made to understand the causal factors of violence and self-harm which took into consideration the impact of the restricted regime. There were encouraging trends in the level of violence but use of force was at a similar level to the period before March. High levels of suicide and self-harm, however, remained a concern, with two self-inflicted deaths in 2020 and one further very recent unexplained death which  was under investigation. Recorded self-harm incidents were three times higher than at comparator prisons. Considerable effort had been made to reduce self-harm, and there were very early indications that these initiatives might be having an impact.

We witnessed many positive interactions between staff and prisoners. These observations were reflected in  our survey where 72% of prisoners said that staff treated them with respect. Key work was limited to the most vulnerable prisoners, but weekly welfare checks were in place for all. In our survey, the majority of prisoners said they had been treated fairly under the new incentives scheme, and we were impressed by the focus on positive behaviour that it provided. The recent introduction of a prison shop supplying snack items,  and another for prisoners to purchase smart and casual clothes at affordable prices,  was also positive

 Communication had been good, with 81% of prisoners in our survey saying that the restrictions had been explained to them. An elected prisoner council had continued to meet senior managers throughout the pandemic. Several surveys had been conducted for prisoners with protected characteristics to understand their needs and concerns during the pandemic. The support for prisoners with disabilities and those requiring social care had improved significantly since our previous inspection in 2019. However, our survey found some concerning perceptions among prisoners from a black, Asian, mixed or minority ethnic background,  which needed to be addressed.

Significant improvements,  which included new showers and serveries, had been made to the living conditions in some areas. A local decency team of staff and prisoners was involved in the ongoing refurbishment of residential accommodation. Although mostly clean, tidy and free of graffiti, some accommodation remained poor in areas that had not yet been refurbished.

Good partnership work had ensured that emergency health care and an increasing level of routine care had remained available. However, dental needs were not being fully met due to national restrictions and local access issues. At the time of our visit, 99 prisoners were on the waiting list for treatment, and some had been waiting for more than six months. As a result, outcomes were deteriorating. We were told, for example, that teeth were being extracted that might otherwise have been treatable.

Social visits had resumed earlier than in many prisons. Visits were managed with sensitivity and suitable exercise of discretion,  while reflecting Public Health England advice. The introduction of video calling (Purple Visits, see Glossary of terms) to family and friends was appreciated by prisoners.

Sentence planning and risk assessment processes were up to date, but we found deficiencies in some public protection work which was a concern. An increase in the use of in-cell telephones during the pandemic had led to a substantial backlog of phone monitoring which the prison urgently needed to address.

Release planning by the community rehabilitation company was mostly conducted through written correspondence with the prisoner, but face-to-face work was expected to increase with the opening of the new resettlement centre. The percentage of prisoners released without settled accommodation had reduced since our last inspection (when it was 47%) but, at 25% during the pandemic, was still far too high.

It was evident during this visit that at long last there had been important changes  at Bristol. Not only had the response to the pandemic been very well managed with the support of the prison group director, but strong and energetic leadership had kept work going during this period to improve the prison. We found a more purposeful, safe and decent establishment than at the time of our previous inspection, despite the regime restrictions. The prison now needs the opportunity to embed and sustain this progress with continued additional support from HM Prison and Probation Service.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
September 2020

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

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