HMIP Inspection of Bullingdon

The prison was given an inspection in  the summer of 2019, 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 Bullingdon is a local and resettlement prison for men and young adult male prisoners, situated some 15 miles north of Oxford. At the time of this inspection, it held around 1,050 prisoners, around a quarter of whom were unsentenced. The prison was last inspected in May 2017, when we found that outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good in all four of our healthy prison tests. At this inspection, we found that our judgements in safety and respect had both improved, to reasonably good. It was notable that since the last inspection, when chronic staff shortages had led to the prison struggling to deliver even basic services, an injection of new staff had arrived. Although this meant that some 75% of staff had less than two years’ service, our sense was that new staff were being well supported, and their presence was contributing to the prison being under control and feeling well ordered. Seventy per cent of prisoners told us that they were treated respectfully by staff.

Levels of violence had risen substantially overall since the last inspection, but there had been some welcome reductions in recent months. More needed to be done to understand precisely which aspects of violence reduction work were having an impact. Our survey also showed that 61% of prisoners had felt unsafe at some point during their time at Bullingdon, and 32% felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. These are high figures, and the perceptions need to be understood.

Even though there were indications that illicit drugs were becoming harder to obtain, the fact remained that more than half of the prisoners believed it was easy to get hold of them, and around one in five said that they had acquired a drug habit since coming into Bullingdon. An overarching drug supply reduction strategy needed to be implemented, and more suspicion testing carried out.

There was too much overcrowding at the prison. Some 23% of cells which were designed to hold one prisoner were actually holding two. This meant that around 400 prisoners were in cramped and overcrowded accommodation, which, when combined with the fact that we found around a third of prisoners locked up during the working day, had a highly damaging impact on living conditions.

It was disappointing to see that there was very little focus on equality. There was a real need for senior leaders to take personal responsibility for driving this forward, initiating action and ensuring that every aspect of prison life was scrutinised for signs of disproportion or inequality. Alongside this work, there needed to be regular monitoring of data and focused efforts to understand the more negative perceptions held by minorities.

It was heartening to find that health care had improved since the last inspection, and now provided a generally very good service.

Our colleagues from Ofsted found that, overall, the provision of education, skills and work required improvement. The details of their findings can be seen in the report, but it was particularly concerning to find that there were insufficient activity places for the population, with a shortfall of around 400 places. Some 140 prisoners were unemployed, and only 65% of all prisoners were allocated to an activity, either full- or part-time.

In terms of rehabilitation and release planning, it was good to find that arrangements for visits had improved. However, we had some very serious concerns about other aspects. For instance, the situation at Bullingdon in terms of the use of the offender assessment system (OASys) was yet another example of a prison failing to adhere to this vital corporate policy requirement. OASys documentation sits at the heart of offender management, sentence planning and progression, risk management and preparation for release. Despite this, we found that only half of eligible prisoners had OASys documentation, meaning that some 300 prisoners had none at all. There was a shortage of probation officers at the prison, and little realistic prospect of either recruiting more or dealing with the huge backlog of forms. I have often said that the OASys procedures appear to be at risk of collapse across the Prison Service, and the weaknesses at Bullingdon gave a stark example of this.

The situation was made worse by the fact that many high-risk prisoners received little or no offender supervisor contact. To compound matters, public protection arrangements were poor. The interdepartmental risk management team was ineffective, and multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) risk levels were often not confirmed before a prisoner was released. The danger that high-risk prisoners could be released in an unsafe way was very real, and heightened by failures to monitor and restrict inappropriate communications, and the fact that a third of prisoners were released to accommodation that was not considered to be sustainable.

Despite these very serious issues, we found that Bullingdon was a prison that had made some significant improvements. It can continue to do so, as it now has far more staff than at the time of the last inspection. The achievement of our recommendations since the last inspection was at a level that we have come to recognise as reasonable, at around half being achieved or partly achieved. I would of course encourage prison leaders, drawing on the energy and enthusiasm of new staff and the experience of existing colleagues, to aim higher, and give themselves a realistic chance of making further progress.

 Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                            August 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Bullingdon

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