HMIP Reports, HMP Dartmoor

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 outlines the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Dartmoor, a category C training prison holding around 600 prisoners. The prison runs an integrated regime where prisoners who are vulnerable because of the nature of their offence are located with mainstream prisoners. At the time of our visit just over half the population were convicted of sexual offences and 84% were serving sentences of more than four years.

Managers had been operating under a closure notice since 2013 and the ‘planning blight’ mentioned at the last inspection had continued. Many of the buildings needed capital investment to stop water ingress, equipment was needed to reduce the supply of illicit drugs and facilities such as the visits hall were outdated. In addition, it was clear that the closure notice had affected staff morale. This was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. In our survey, 55% of staff who responded to it said that morale had declined during the pandemic compared to just 5% who said it had improved.

The restricted time out of cell meant that there were very few meaningful incentives for prisoners who engaged well with staff and the regime. Levels of violence remained low and violence against prisoners had reduced, although there had been an increase in assaults against staff since the start of the restrictions. Safer custody peer workers provided good support to prisoners who were victims of bullying and violence. In contrast to the fall in violence, use of force had doubled during the restrictions. Oversight had been maintained but there were too many occasions where body-worn video cameras were not turned on at the start of incidents for managers to be confident that this significant rise in use of force was justified.

There had been one self-inflicted death in May 2020 which was subject to a Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigation. While self-harm had reduced, the number of ACCT documents (see Glossary of terms) opened had increased during the pandemic as wing staff were identifying increasing numbers of prisoners struggling with the restrictions. A safety intervention team had been established with officers detailed each day to see every prisoner identified as vulnerable, which was positive. However, there was no management oversight of the ACCT process and documents that we reviewed were poor. Demand for Listeners (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide emotional support to fellow prisoners) had tripled during the restrictions and there were too few for a prison of this size.

In our survey, 82% of prisoners said that staff treated them with respect, and we found that relationships were generally good. Many prisoners were trusted to work in peer support roles although these were operating a restricted service. The key work scheme had been suspended which was a significant gap in provision.

All prisoners lived in single cells and staff and prisoners ensured that dilapidated wings were cleaned to a high standard. Outside areas were also clean and tidy. Responses to complaints were timely and generally addressed the issues raised. Prisoners were positive about the food and our findings supported these views.

 Equality and diversity work had stopped at the start of the pandemic which left managers unable to explain poor perceptions among prisoners with disabilities and poor mental health. Discrimination complaints were not adequately investigated and many of the responses were dismissive. At the time of our visit there was no plan to reinstate this work.

Partnership working between the establishment, the main health provider and Public Health England was managing the risks of   COVID-19 effectively. There had been no confirmed positive cases since April. Health care services were limited at the start of the pandemic and an appropriate triage system was in place to enable prisoners to access a GP. About a third of the population was over 50 and many prisoners had long-term health conditions. It was positive that services were being restored Introduction but we had concerns about very long waiting lists for the dentist, optician, podiatrist and physiotherapist.

The mental health service had worked remotely at the start of the pandemic and was now undertaking one-to-one work with prisoners. The 57 prisoners receiving opiate substitution treatment continued to receive regular joint reviews with a specialist prescriber and a member of the psychosocial team. Medicines administration was reasonable but lacked privacy on some wings.

The prison continued to make social care referrals but the local authority had not carried out any assessments during the pandemic.

 Time out of cell was very limited, and most prisoners were only unlocked for one hour a day. Managers were preparing further improvements and if the prison gained approval to move into stage two of the national recovery plan (see Glossary of terms) the regime would be significantly improved. However, there was no justification for the very limited time out of cell prisoners could access while the prison remained in stage three. It was positive that work had continued for about a third of the population in the kitchens and gardens and in wing work roles. However, many of the workshops and all the education classrooms remained closed. After an initial absence, the education provider was now distributing a wide range of in-cell workbooks, about 4,500 of   which had been completed. There had been more than 600 course completions by nearly 500 prisoners. Gym staff offered prisoners at least two circuit sessions a week and the library offered a limited outreach service for prisoners.

There was limited provision to help prisoners maintain contact with their friends and family. There were no in-cell telephones and prisoners could only access telephones on the landings during the hour they were unlocked. Staff did accommodate requests to make important calls at other times of the core day. For most prisoners, however, calls with children at school or adults who worked could only be made at the weekend. Despite the lack of in-cell phones the prison had not been prioritised for video calling technology, which had only been installed in August. It had been well received by prisoners who had used the service. Social visits had been reinstated but restrictions had significantly reduced demand.

The offender management unit (OMU) had benefited from stable leadership since the last inspection and had worked hard to ensure that nearly all prisoners had an up-to-date assessment of risk and a sentence plan. Offender management work was focused on timebound events such as release, re-categorisation and parole. Face-to-face contact with prison offender managers (POMs) was limited for most prisoners and this was compounded by the lack of key worker support. Delivery of offending behaviour interventions was very limited and the programmes needed by many prisoners were not offered at Dartmoor. Transfers to other prisons had almost ceased during the pandemic and moves to category D prisons had only recently started to reduce the increasing number of prisoners suitable for open conditions. The low number of progressive moves was not helped by the lack of consistent staffing for the observation, classification and allocation (OCA) (see Glossary of terms) function.

 Public protection measures were broadly sound and there were no backlogs in monitoring. It was concerning that four prisoners had been released during the pandemic without confirmation of the level of their multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA).

Dartmoor was not a designated resettlement prison but had released about 20 prisoners each month. Resettlement work diverted POMs from the offence-focused work that many of the population needed. On-site community rehabilitation company (CRC) resettlement provision had been introduced since the last inspection. The CRC was not providing face-to-face resettlement support, although records showed that contact was being made in good time for release and action was being taken to try to resolve accommodation and other issues. Despite this, eight prisoners released in the previous six months had not had accommodation to go to on their day of release and others had gone to transient accommodation.

Despite the planned closure, Dartmoor continues to hold more than 600 prisoners in accommodation and facilities that need significant investment to make them fit for purpose. Staff have been working under notice of closure for seven years with a predictable impact on morale. The pandemic has made a difficult situation worse. Managers had worked well to implement national guidance, which was positive, and the prison remained reasonably safe and respectful. However, there were significant shortfalls that needed addressing including the poor infrastructure, limited regime and the lack of equality and diversity provision.

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

 Return to Dartmoor

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

  • HMP Dartmoor – report (395 kB), Report on a scrutiny visit to HMP Dartmoor by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (22 and 29-30 September 2020)
  • HMP Dartmoor (639.72 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Dartmoor (14–24 August 2017)
  • HMP Dartmoor, Unannounced inspection of HMP Dartmoor (2-13 December 2013)
  • HMP Dartmoor, An announced inspection of HMP Dartmoor (12 – 16 December 2011)
  • HMP Dartmoor, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Dartmoor (10-19 March 2010)
  • HMP Dartmoor, Announced inspection of HMP Dartmoor (11-15 February 2008)