The prison was given an inspection in September and October 2018, 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 has, since May 2017, been designated as a reception prison. At the time of the inspection there were some 900 prisoners held there, of which around 70% were either on remand or subject to recall. The prison itself dates from the early 19th century, and is located close to the centre of the city. Although the establishment was no longer designated as a local prison, it inevitably shared many of the features of other local prisons and indeed faced many of the same challenges. This was very clearly reflected in the findings of this inspection, where the prevalence of illicit drugs, a high number of self-inflicted deaths, high levels of violence and self-harm and the influx of large numbers of new staff all featured prominently.
Our overriding concern was around the lack of safety in the prison. Since the last inspection in October 2016, there had been seven self-inflicted deaths, and it was disappointing to see that the response to recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) had not been addressed with sufficient vigour or urgency. There had also been a further five deaths in the space of eight months where it was suspected that illicit drugs might have played a role. The ready availability of drugs in the prison was brought out in our survey. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners told us it was easy to get drugs, and 30% told us they had acquired a drug habit since coming into the prison. These were very high figures. The prison was well aware of the dangers posed by drugs and had developed a strategy to address the problem.
However, the leadership of the prison was immensely frustrated by the fact that they had no modern technology available to them to help them in their efforts to stem the flow of drugs into the prison. We were told that they had been promised some modern scanning equipment but that it had been diverted to another prison. The scale of the problem at HMP Durham and the obvious linkage to all kinds of violence were such that technological support was urgently needed.
Since the last inspection, violence in the prison had doubled and the use of force by staff had increased threefold. Some of this latter increase may have beendue to new staff who were not yet confident in using de-escalation techniques. It was reassuring to see that the governance of the use of force had improved, and the measures being taken to log and analyse violence looked very promising. There were some very early signs that the level of violence was beginning to decline, but it was too early to be demonstrable as a sustainable trend or to affect our judgement that safety at HMP Durham was poor.
A further serious concern was that some 10% of the prisoners were assessed as presenting a high risk of harm to others, yet many of these were being managed by uniformed offender supervisors who had neither the training, experience nor adequate supervision to deal with this type of prisoner. The recent appointment of a senior probation officer will, we hope, reduce the risk posed by what we regarded as a significant vulnerability.
Nevertheless, there were many positive things happening at the prison. The introduction of in-cell telephony and electronic kiosks on the wings for prisoners to make applications had undoubtedly been beneficial. The disruption caused by prisoners needing to be taken to court had been reduced by the extensive use of video links. A new and more predictable regime had recently been introduced which was well received by staff and prisoners alike, increasing access to amenities such as showers and laundry on the wings. For a prison of this type, the time out of cell enjoyed by prisoners was reasonable and it was quite apparent that, despite its age, the prison was basically clean and decent. It was also good to see that the leadership of the prison clearly regarded the influx of new staff as an opportunity to make improvements and not, as we have seen in a few prisons, as an inexperienced liability.
There was no doubt that there was an extent to which HMP Durham was still going through the process of defining, refining and responding to its role as a reception prison. The very large throughput of prisoners gave rise to the risk that taking them through the necessary processes could predominate over identifying individual needs and ensuring favourable outcomes. However, the prison was aware of this risk. The most pressing needs are to get to grips with the violence of all kinds, make the prison safer and reduce the flow of drugs. Only then will the benefits flow from the many creditable initiatives that are being implemented.
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:
- HMP Durham, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Durham (24 September–5 October 2018)
- HMP Durham , 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