HMIP Inspection of HMP Bure

The prison was subjected to an inspection in March 2021. In their report the inspectors said:

“This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Bure to report on the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Situated on the former RAF Coltishall base in Norfolk and opened in 2009, HMP Bure is a category C training prison and a national resource for around 600 prisoners convicted of   sexual offences. At the time of our visit, about three-quarters of the population had been assessed as presenting a high risk of harm and nearly all were serving long sentences of four years or more. More than half the prisoners were aged over 50 and a third were considered clinically vulnerable to COVID-19.

The prison was well led and attention to COVID-19-safe procedures was particularly impressive. Shielding and quarantine arrangements had been applied rigorously to minimise the spread of the virus. The potentially more serious consequences for an older and,  in many cases, frailer population had been avoided during a recent COVID-19 outbreak. Although one prisoner had died of a COVID-19-related illness, there had been no confirmed cases on the residential unit where the most clinically vulnerable and many shielding prisoners were located. Communal areas were kept very clean and face masks were worn by staff and prisoners alike. Staff uptake of regular COVID-19 testing was high and the prison operated its own robust internal ‘test and trace’ system to help contain the virus. At the time of our visit, more than 40% of prisoners had received their first vaccination and almost all of who had been offered the vaccine had taken it. Health care provision was also good.

Prison leaders had taken swift action to limit access to the regime at times of increased risk of COVID-19, but had also acted quickly to ease restrictions when possible. As one of the first prisons to have a recovery plan approved by HM Prison and Probation Service   following the most recent national lockdown, the prison had progressed to ‘regime stage 3’ during the week of our visit. Group worship, indoor gym, workshops and classrooms were in the process of reopening. However, plans were still in preparation for increasing the time unlocked on the residential units and for outside exercise. The amount of time unlocked for most prisoners remained limited to less than two hours a day, which included 45 minutes’  access to the exercise yard. Without in-cell telephony, there was not enough time or privacy for calls, which were limited to only five minutes, on the communal telephones.

The prison was calm and well ordered,  with low levels of violence and use of force,  and a very sparing use of disciplinary measures during the period of restrictions. The segregation unit had been shut for the past three months. Staff-prisoner relationships were a strength, with 91% of prisoners in our survey saying that staff treated them with respect. Most also said that they had a staff member to turn to if they had a problem and we observed supportive and helpful interactions. This caring ethos was also evident in the additional support given to the most vulnerable during the pandemic, although we found some weaknesses in assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management. Levels of self-harm had reduced in the past 12 months, but the rate was still higher than at some similar prisons and we found examples of serious self-harm among the population. There had been two self-inflicted deaths during the pandemic. The demand for Listeners (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners) was very high.

Only around a fifth of prisoners had accessed any form of in-cell education and only a small proportion had remained in their work roles during the pandemic. More positively, some offending behaviour programme work had continued. However, the need to adapt delivery for one-to-one sessions or small groups had delayed completion rates and,  ultimately, progression for some prisoners, which was an understandable source of frustration.

We found public protection procedures to be reasonable, although a lack of communication from community offender managers had had an impact on the timeliness of some risk management and release planning arrangements. Unlike at our 2017 inspection, dedicated resettlement resources were now available. However, the community rehabilitation company providing the ‘through-the-gate’ support had withdrawn all face-to-face contact with prisoners at the start of the pandemic until the week of our visit.

In conclusion, the prison had managed well in protecting its frail and older population from the virus. The committed and caring leadership and staff group had maintained a safe, decent and very respectful prison despite the challenges of the pandemic. With national approval to move forward with its plan for recovery, the prison is in a strong position now to increase time unlocked and give much needed access to more purposeful activity.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
April 2021

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