HMIP Inspection of Brixton

The prison was given an inspection in January 2017, 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 Brixton in south London is one of the country’s oldest and most famous prison establishments. Although historically a traditional local prison it has, in recent years, been operating as a training establishment for category C and D prisoners. The limitations and age of the environment mean that it is always a challenge to run Brixton well, but clarification of its changed function had been a big step forward and the basis for recent improvement. However, progress had not been maintained. Staff shortages, as well as, until recently, managerial drift, had led to a significant decline in outcomes, notably in safety but also in the quality of learning and skills and activity.

Arrangements to receive new prisoners had worsened since we last inspected. Reception was poor, there were failings in some aspects of risk management and first night cells were not equipped or prepared. Induction was just adequate and helped significantly by some good peer support.

Brixton was not a safe prison. Almost a third of prisoners told us they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection and nearly two-thirds had felt unsafe at some point during their stay. Levels of violence had increased and were high, and the prison’s response had been wholly inadequate. The number of self-harm incidents had quadrupled since our last inspection. Care for those at risk of self-harm was generally poor and there were dangerous shortcomings in support procedures that needed immediate attention.

Some good work was now being done to increase the security of the establishment but the prison was awash with drugs, undermining everything that was being done to promote prisoner well-being. Well over half of prisoners told us it was easy to get drugs and a quarter had tested positive. Inspectors saw prisoners openly smoking cannabis and the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) were also having a negative effect on the stability of the prison.

Work to reduce violence, increase support for those vulnerable to self-harm and stop the supply and misuse of drugs were absolute priorities for the establishment, and all are among our main recommendations.

The prison remained a poor, cramped and overcrowded environment with mixed access to the basics of daily living. A new system, using peer supporters to help with simple applications and questions, showed some early promise. Relation ships between staff and prisoners needed to improve, and the situation was not helped by severe staff shortages. Not enough prisoners felt respected. Staff were insufficiently engaged and knew too little about those they were supervising. Support from specialist staff was better and formal consultation with prisoners was now improving.

Very little was done to promote equality, despite the diversity of the population. Health care provision was reasonable overall. Time out of cell had deteriorated since we last in spected, although a temporary regime had brought greater predictability to when prisoners would be let out of their cells. There were sufficient activity places but regime restrictions limited attendance and affected punctuality. Nearly a quarter of prisoners were locked up during the working day, which was poor for a training prison andundermined any attempt at a rehabilitative ethos. The quality of teaching, learning and assessment varied. The education provider delivered a reasonable range of courses but prisoners were frustrated at the limited number of important English and mathematics courses. Some vocational training was exceptional, but most prisoners had poor access to constructive activity.Our colleagues in Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of learning and skills to be inadequate overall. The failure to respond sufficiently to previous recommendations, limited progression opportunities and restricted access all required urgent attention.

Reasonable work to support resettlement remained in place but greater coordination would have improved outcomes. Contact with offender supervisors was variable and while good efforts had been made to reduce the backlog in offender assessments (OASys), too many were out of date. However, key processes of importance to prisoners, such as home detention curfew (HDC) and parole assessments were completed in a timely fashion, and public protection work was sound. Temporary release was used correctly to support resettlement. Reintegration planning, although variable, demonstrated some good features, notably in respect of preparation for training and employment and the promotion of family ties.

We inspected Brixton at a difficult time. A new governor had been recently appointed and there were signs of new initiatives and developing plans that were beginning to arrest and address the deterioration. There was a candour and openness on the part of managers concerning the problems they faced and optimism about their capacity to improve the prison. We did not consider that the prison had already turned a corner, but there were signs of progress that must be sustained. We leave the prison with a number of recommendations which we hope will aid that process.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM



HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Brixton

To read the full reports follow the links below:

  • HMP Brixton (539.58 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Brixton (3–4, 9–13 January 2017)
  • HMP Brixton, Report on an announced inspection of HMP Brixton (3 – 7 November 2014)
  • HMP Brixton, Unannounced inspection of HMP Brixton (1–12 July 2013)
  • HMP Brixton, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Brixton (1 – 10 December 2010)
  • HMP Brixton, An announced inspection of HMP Brixton (28 April – 2 May 2008)