HMIP Inspections of Downview

The prison was given an inspection in August 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 Downview is a closed female prison in Sutton in Surrey. At the time of the inspection the prison was holding a little over 300 women, most of whom were serving sentences of over four years. The prison was last inspected in 2013. Shortly afterwards it was closed and remained so for two years and eight months. The initial plan was to incorporate the prison into the men’s estate but, with the closure of HMP Holloway, it was decided to retain it within the female estate. The prison reopened in May 2016.

This inspection found it had made good progress since opening 15 months earlier. One of its strengths was the high profile the governor and his senior management team maintained across the prison. Many women were positive about how visible, approachable and genuinely interested they were in helping them make positive changes to their lives.

This was a fundamentally safe prison. Many indicators of safety, including the number of violent incidents, the frequency of use of force, the use of segregation and the number of adjudications were all lower than at other women’s prisons. Fewer women than at other prisons also told us that they had felt unsafe there at some point. Provision during women’s early days at the prison required greater attention and we were concerned that women did not receive a first night safety interview. Nevertheless, women said they felt safe on their first night. This was, possibly, testament to the supportive nature of relationships between staff and prisoners, which many prisoners spoke about throughout our inspection. There had been one self-inflicted death at Downview in recent months, which was still subject to investigation. We were, however, confident that the governor and his staff would take appropriate action once investigations were complete.

The prison had a mix of staff, some of whom had returned to Downview when it reopened. Others had transferred from Holloway prison and some were new to the Prison Service. The prison estimated that by October 2017 approximately 40% of the staff group would be newly trained officers. This presented some real challenges, predominately how to create an effective culture and community. Much work had been undertaken to ensure procedures were in place that would help steer the staff’s work and ensure consistency. In many cases this was working. Work with vulnerable women and those at risk of self-harm or suicide was progressing well and the development of distraction packs was excellent. In other areas, procedures were less well developed, for instance in the management of adjudications, but we were confident that progress was heading in the right direction and that managers recognised how to take the work forward.

We were concerned about equalities and diversity work, which had been neglected. More needed to be done to understand those with protected characteristics and to monitor whether the prison’s regime was having a different impact on these groups compared with others.

Most women at Downview were serving long sentences. They required access to real employment opportunities and good progress had been made in attempting to bring in a range of options. Provision at the London College of Fashion workshop and in the Max Spielmann photographic workshop was good for those women who participated, but numbers were still low. Overall too many women were not sufficiently occupied. Upwards of a further 60 places were expected to come on stream within the following few months, which would significantly improve the provision.

Resettlement provision was, overall, reasonable , but while the work undertaken by probation offender supervisors was of a good standard, officer offender supervisors’ work was far more variable. The range of provision for women approaching release was impressive but too few women were aware of what was available. Resettlement pathway work was, in most cases, well managed.

Although work regarding children and families was developing reasonably well, more was required to ensure the needs of all women were met and that provision was similar to what we often see at other women’s prisons.

Overall this was a good prison that had made very positive progress in a relatively short space of time since it had reopened. The governor and his team recognised that there was still much that needed to be done. However, much of what had been done to date was of a good standard, which augured well for the future.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
September 2017
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Downview

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