HMIP Inspections of HMP Durham

The prison was given an inspection in October 2016, 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 Durham is a city-centre, local prison that dates from the early 19th century. Serving courts in the North East and Cumbria, it holds just under 1000 adult and young adult male prisoners in aged and overcrowded accommodation. Nearly half of those held were remanded or serving short sentences, although every circumstance, age and status of prisoner was represented. At this front-line institution accepting new prisoners from the streets, the high levels of need amongst the population were clearly evident and a significant challenge. During our inspection we were told of plans to designate Durham as a reception prison with the principal purpose of holding remanded and unsentenced prisoners.

At previous inspections, and at this inspection, we have acknowledged the many positive features of the work done at this prison. We have, however, also criticised the slow pace of progress and improvement at Durham. This remained the case. The prison was still not safe enough and was still not sufficiently respectful. Outcomes  in work, learning and skills, and in the prison’s delivery of resettlement had deteriorated.

In our survey there was evidence to suggest more prisoners now felt unsafe at the prison than during previous inspections. Levels of violence remained broadly unchanged and most incidents were low level. Policies were in place to try to reduce violence, although their effectiveness varied. Four prisoners had taken their own lives since we last inspected (and we were informed of a further tragic death the week following our inspection). The prison  seemed to be trying to learn lessons from these recent tragedies and, although improvements could be made, those we spoke to in crisis indicated they felt cared for. A backdrop to concerns over safety was the clear evidence that illicit drugs were readily available in the prison. Just under half of prisoners told us in our survey that this was the case.

A significant omission at Durham remained the generally poor quality and tardiness of reception, first night and induction arrangements. Mitigated only by  some quite good peer support, the practice we observed was inconsistent and often poor. This is  a criticism we have made before, and was a major risk in a prison with a responsibility for receiving those new to  custody. Putting right the way prisoners are received into the prison and how their needs are met is the subject of one of our main recommendations.

A further concern, which is also the subject of a main recommendation, was the threefold increase in the use of force. Levels were now higher than  at similar institutions and we were not confident that all instances were properly accounted for or, in some instances, justified.

Communal areas in the prison were worn but reason ably clean, while cells were often overcrowded, dirty and not properly equipped. Overall, staff-prisoner relationships were improving and we observed both commendable interaction and care by many staff but also too much disinterest and lack of care by others. The promotion of equality remained unfocused and weak. The provision of health care was reasonable, with some excellent mental health interventions.

During this inspection we found well-developed plans to increase the availability of appropriate activity, education and work in preparation for the prison’s proposed redesignation as a reception establishment, but during our visits too much of the existing provision was unavailable and was insufficient to meet the needs of the population. Added to this, too few attended what was available and not enough was done to promote the importance  of learning and work. During the working day we found 47% of prisoners locked in their cells. Our colleagues in Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of provision in Durham as ‘requiring improvement’.

Work to support resettlement also needed improvement. The provision overall lacked integration and too much was applied inconsistently. Many prisoners were transferred on from the prison without a completed assessment of their offender risks and too few were actively engaged in the meaningful planning of their sentences. Support for reintegration into the community was better but again there was evidence to suggest prisoners were not fully engaged. Support for families remained a strength.

Overall this is a disappointing report. The prison had many strengths, not least a strong local identity and generally friendly staff, but the culture was not as constructive or purposeful as it should have been. It was striking how little had changed since our last inspection, with a passivity, even complacency, about what was needed to take the prison forward. Plans to redefine the prison’s role and purpose arguably provide an opportunity to develop greater momentum towards improvement.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                             January 2017                                                                                                                                                                

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Durham

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

  • HMP Durham (656.83 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Durham (3-14 October 2016)
  • HMP Durham , Unannounced inspection of HMP Durham (2 – 13 December 2013)
  • HMP Durham ,An announced inspection of HMP Durham (3 – 7 October 2011)
  • HMP Durham ,Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Durham (12-16 October 2009