The prison was given an inspection in July 2021, 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:
Downview is a closed training prison in south London that held 210 women at the time of our inspection, nearly three-quarters of whom were serving sentences of over four years and 40% were assessed as presenting a high risk of harm to others. The site was well looked after and women lived in cells that were generally in good condition, although in somewhat tired-looking accommodation blocks. The prison had successfully come through a challenging COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the year and was beginning to lift some restrictions.
Leaders had prioritised opening up education and workshops had begun to operate, with women attending lessons in classrooms or outreach sessions on the wing. Though plans for the further rollout of education were not fully developed, Downview had made considerably more progress than we have seen elsewhere, and enthusiastic staff members were helping to drive this forward.
Although inspectors saw many friendly interactions, relations between staff and women were not as good as we have seen in other women’s prisons. My colleagues and I were given many examples of staff members being rude, dismissive or unhelpful. This was particularly worrying in a prison that holds such a vulnerable population and was in marked contrast to the quality of relationships we reported in our inspection of nearby HMP Send. It was also concerning that local and national leaders had not identified improving the quality of relationships in the prison as a priority.
The governor had recognised the need for development of middle leaders and that relationships between middle and senior leaders was strained. In response, an externally-run programme had been brought in to help address these issues, but the impact was not yet apparent and further work was required to change what seemed to be some deep-seated cultural issues.
The women held at Downview generally behaved well and levels of violence were low, but more could have been done to encourage good behaviour. As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the prison should make sure that the incentives scheme rewards those who have earned their enhanced status.
At the start of the second week of our inspection, the prison introduced a new regime that was designed to make sure that women had more time to complete domestic tasks, socialise and exercise, particularly those who were in work. Leaders had failed to communicate this change clearly and during the week both staff and women often did not know what they were supposed to be doing or where they were supposed to be, which they said was consistent with a pattern of poor communication in the prison. Leaders needed to make sure that there was adequate consultation and more thorough communication, through a wider range of channels, before changes were made.
Inspectors saw some excellent partnerships between professionals in health care, but there were not always enough officers to escort women, which meant that a quarter of GP appointments were missed.
Though many women were still locked in their cells for too long, with some only getting out for an hour-and-a-half a day, it was heartening to see workshops open and flourishing after so many months of restrictions. The prison has the opportunity to build on this and begin to provide a fully operational service. All plans to improve Downview will be dependent on senior leaders strengthening their own relationships with middle leaders, and between officers and the women. This must be a priority for the prison and leaders should plan to spend more time on the wings modelling the behaviour they want to see and, where necessary, addressing inappropriate staff conduct.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below: