HMP Gartree, HMIP Inspection

The last full HMIP inspection was in November 2017 . To read the full report follow the links below. In the latest  report the inspectors said:

” HMP Gartree is a medium-sized category B prison in Leicestershire. Built mostly in the 1960s, it is unusual in that it holds only prisoners serving indeterminate sentences, 90% of whom are serving a life sentence. The clear majority present a high risk of harm to others. A recent change in the profile of prisoners sent to Gartree eant that an increasing number of those held were in the very early stages of their sentence and, as such, were not necessarily ready to complete offending behaviour work and faced the real prospect of many years at the prison before onward progression into the wider prison system. This shift in the population had presented some specific challenges.

Our last two inspections of Gartree in 2010 and 2014 found a safe, stable and respectful establishment which managed its high-risk population well. At this inspection, we found that outcomes for prisoners had deteriorated across three of our four healthy prison tests, particularly in safety. The stability we have praised in the past had been undermined by staff shortages that seemed to impact on nearly all aspects of prison life; this was evidenced by managerial drift and by delays in fully coming to terms with the challenges posed by a changing population.

The prison was no longer safe enough. Despite some positive features, the management of newly arrived prisoners and their induction were lacklustre and a missed opportunity to set the right tone with prisoners facing long years at the prison.

Almost a quarter of prisoners in our survey now indicated they felt unsafe, up from 10% when we last inspected. In common with so many prisons, levels of violence and victimisation had increased, bringing what had previously been very positive lower levels into line with comparable prisons. A concern was the very significant increase in assaults on staff, some of these being very serious. Some work had been done to try to make the prison safer but it was inconsistent and insufficient, often taken in isolation and not coordinated or shared with the wider staff group.

Use of force had similarly increased to a level now consistent with similar prisons but, when used, seemed to us justified and well supervised. Use of segregation had also increased but remained lower than that seen in comparable prisons. Prisoners held in segregation were reasonably well cared for but they were a cohort of often long-term residents and/or were very troubled and challenging individuals. Yet more work needed to be done to better meet the admittedly intractable needs of these men.

Security was generally proportionate, although the quality of intelligence – normally reflective of the strength of relationships between staff and prisoners – was weaker, a seeming result of staff shortages and staff inexperience. Almost half of prisoners thought that illicit drugs were easily available but, although increasing, mandatory drug testing data suggested usage was not as high as elsewhere in the prison system. The prison’s response to drugs issues, both in tackling supply and supporting those with a drug problem, nevertheless needed to be much better.

The incidents of prisoners self-harming had risen dramatically, in fact they had almost quadrupled since our last inspection. There is no doubt that Gartree holds some very challenging prisoners, often with complex mental health problems and long-term needs, and a large proportion of the self-harm incidents related to these men. However, there was no strategy which considered the particular difficulties confronting those serving in determinate sentences to understand the causes of, and tackle, this dramatic rise in incidents. Support for them lacked focus and the case management of those in crisis was not good enough. A small number of prisoners had been subject to assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) monitoring for extraordinarily long periods, one for two years; another prisoner had been subject to constant observation for over a year. The prison had lost its way in trying to care for these prisoners and plan for their recovery.

Gartree remained a reasonably respectful prison , although again deterioration was evident. The physical environment, the quality of accommodation and services to support daily living were all sufficient. We saw evidence of positive and useful staff-prisoner relationships which had clearly been established over time, but for the many new staff, long periods of lock-up meant that effective relationships had yet to develop. Work to promote equality had been neglected, which had resulted in what we evidenced to be quite mixed outcomes for different groups with protected characteristics. Health provision had deteriorated and was of particular concern. Severe nursing staffing shortages meant that nursing provision focused on crisis management and medicines administration, which created significant gaps in planned and proactive health and social care. Our judgement was somewhat mitigated by the fact that a new health provider had only recently taken on responsibility for health, so there was a reasonable expectation that matters would improve.

Staff shortages meant that prisoners spent far too much time locked up. Prisoners were immensely frustrated by the lack of consistency and predictability to their day. Managers tried to give prisoners notice of additional lock-up periods but the staff shortages were so acute that prisoners were regularly locked up at short notice for substantial periods of the day and this severely undermined work, training and education. There were some innovative attempts to promote the better use of prisoner time but the disruption to daily routines was pervasive and during checks we found 44% of prisoners locked up during the working day. The number of work or education places had been increased but unemployment remained too high. All of this was particularly disappointing as the quality of education, training and work provision was good and prisoners achieved well.

The core responsibility of HMP Gartree is the management and progression of some very dangerous men. Over 90% were assessed as presenting a high or very high risk of harm to others. As in many other areas, staff shortages had a detrimental impact on offender management. Many prisoners had too little contact with their offender supervisors and too little was done to motivate and encourage them to reduce their risk and progress. An impressive range of offending behaviour programmes was offered but it needed a review to reflect the changed population. At our last inspection, we commented positively on the introduction of the therapeutic community plus (TC+) and psychologically informed planned environment (PIPE) unit, which enhanced the provision of the original long-standing therapeutic community. At this inspection, although undermined by staff shortages, all three communities continued to be very effective. With such a risky population, public protection was a high priority and well managed. Very few prisoners were released and all received bespoke release planning.

To conclude, our sense was that Gartree was a prison that was not as good as it could or should be. It had some difficult prisoners to manage but also had some significant advantages: a relatively stable population; long-term prisoners, among whom many would have a significant personal investment in the need to cooperate and progress; and a clear institutional function and purpose. It was clear to us that staff shortages had played a substantial part in Gartree’s deterioration, but that was not the whole story. There were evidently a number of processes that needed tightening but, more significantly, there was a need for renewed managerial and strategic focus to re-energise the prison, tackle some of the challenges and avoid a drift into complacency. It was striking, for example, how few of our previous recommendations had been achieved. We left the prison with some additional recommendations which we trust will assist improvement going forward.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
January 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


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This section contains the reports for Gartree from 2001 until present