HMIP Inspection of Bullingdon

The prison was given an inspection in  the April/May 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:

Built 25 years ago, Bullingdon is a relatively modern local and resettlement prison near Bicester in Oxfordshire. Serving the Thames Valley, it holds just over 1100 adult and young adult prisoners of differing status. About a fifth of those held are unsentenced or unconvicted, while others represent the full range of sentences, including nearly 200 men who are serving over 10 years and up to life. In this respect, Bullingdon is a complex prison that contends with disparate operational challenges.

We last inspected Bullingdon in 2015. At the time we described a prison that had struggled – not least owing to its difficulty in maintaining staffing levels – but where the early signs of improvement were evident. At this inspection we found a not dissimilar picture. It was clear to us that the attempt to sustain improvement at the prison had been a challenge and, to an extent, it was a significant disappointment that outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good against all of our tests of a healthy prison. That said, there was much that we found that was encouraging and which suggested improvement remained a realistic possibility.

Bullingdon was not safe enough. The reception of new prisoners took too long and had insufficient focus on self-harm risks. Peer-led induction arrangements were, however, useful. About a third of prisoners felt unsafe and violence remained high, despite some early signs that it was, at last, reducing. The prison was active in addressing this challenge and was able to evidence a number of meaningful initiatives, as well as the deployment of resources designed to reduce anti-social behaviour. A mentoring unit designed to support vulnerable prisoners struggling to cope with the prison experience, who were therefore vulnerable to exploitation, was an example of this. Similarly, Bullingdon was one of the few public sector prisons we have been to where prisoners could get a full shop order within 24 hours of arrival, thus mitigating their chances of falling into debt and related bullying.

Nevertheless, too many prisoners felt victimised. There was clear evidence of a significant drug and gang problem in the prison, with regular finds of drugs, mobile phones and weapons, although too many searches were missed and the quality of supervision was called into question by a lack of staff. In our main recommendations we identify the need to address both the staffing problems and the problem of violence as key priorities for the prison.

Since we last visited, three prisoners had taken their own lives, and there had been a significant increase in self-harm incidents. Unlike the prison’s focus on violence reduction, their work to support those at risk of self-harm was weak and, in addition, safe guarding procedures were very poor. We identify support for those at risk of self -harm as a third priority for the prison in our main recommendations. Like violence, use of force was much increased, but supervision was now better. Segregation operated at near capacity, although there were now fewer prisoners seeking sanctuary than we observed when we last inspected.

The governor, through some effective, visible leadership, ensured the prison was reasonably clean, but many cells remained poorly equipped and about a quarter were overcrowded. Staff-prisoner relationships were best described as adequate rather than good. Some staff, but not enough, were supportive – a situation not helped by their lack of numbers. The promotion of equality had seen some improvement, as had the provision of healthcare, although – in keeping with a repeated theme of this inspection – it was undermined in key areas by a lack of adequate staffing. Again, addressing this shortfall was a key priority for the prison. Staff shortages had further impacted the regime to which prisoners had access, curtailing time unlocked for most. Daily routines were predictable but during the working day we found 45% of prisoners locked in their cells. Our colleagues in Ofsted judged that the overall provision of learning and skills at Bullingdon required improvement. There were broadly sufficient work and education places for all, but allocation and attendance were poor. Similarly, teaching, learning and assessment needed to be better and too much work was repetitive and mundane.

Despite having a significant number of higher-risk prisoners, the quality of offender management was again undermined by staff shortages and was poor.Too few prisoners had a proper assessment of their risks or a meaningful sentence plan. Public protection arrangements also needed to improve. Resettlement work evidenced some improvement across the pathways, although, again, we identified weaknesses, notably in supporting those to be released into accommodation or into work or training.

The key message from this inspection was the urgent need for increased staffing. It was clear to us that this was a strategic problem that was undermining everything the prison was trying to do. Despite this, and despite the outcomes we observed and the assessments we have made, many – not least the governor – were doing their best to effect improvement and were proving capable in doing so. This suggested that there was cause for continued optimism. We list a number of recommendations that we trust will assist the prison.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

June 2017

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: