HMIP Inspections of High Down

The prison was given an inspection very early in May 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 High Down is a local category B prison located in Banstead, Surrey, and at the time of this inspection held 1,130 men. Four hundred of those men were held in over crowded cells that had been designed for one person, and 536 of them were unemployed. The prison was last inspected in January 2015. This inspection found that standards  had declined in two of our four healthy prison tests: safety and purposeful activity. We were particularly concerned that uncertainty as to the prison’s future role was preventing senior leadership from effective planning, and this was having a direct impact on outcomes for prisoners. It is also highly likely that this uncertainty had contributed to the fact that the prison had failed to achieve 47 of the 80 recommendations made at the last inspection.

In terms of safety, we found that processes and procedures during reception, the first night in the prison and induction, when prisoners are likely to be at their most vulnerable, were poor and needed urgent intervention by management. Violence had increased and was now at a similar level to other local prisons, and much of it was related to the ready availability of illicit drugs. There was a drug supply reduction strategy in place and this had recently been enhanced but would need to be constantly reviewed if it was to have an impact on the flow of drugs into the jail. There were a number of other issues that caused us to reduce our judgement of this area to not sufficiently good, and these are detailed in the body of this report.

The area that caused us greatest concern was that of purposeful activity, and this was directly related to the uncertainty over the prison’s future. We were told that there had been some delayed plans to re-role the prison to become a category C training prison. So far as the senior management team were aware, the latest plan was that this should happen in the autumn of 2018, just a few months after the inspection. When I asked if this was definitely going to happen and what the plans were to enable it to do so, no-one could give me a clear answer. They simply did not know. This, I was told, was because they had not been given any more detail by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). This was extraordinary.

To turn High Down into a fit-for-purpose training prison would involve a major change management programme, and yet nobody was able to give me any explanation of time frames, sequencing of actions, milestones, costings or accountabilities. Any ambition to achieve this by the autumn, as was expected by the prison leadership, would inevitably fail. It was a matter of simple logistics. At the time of the inspection there was a shortfall of around 550 activity places. Only 55% – about 330 – of those who were actually allocated to work or education attended at any one time. Forty-seven per cent of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day. To transform this situation in a few short months would clearly be impossible, yet the governor and team believed that they might be expected to do so. Hardly surprisingly, I heard the expression ‘planning blight’ being used on several occasions.

The overriding priority, beyond making the prison safer and addressing the serious failings in public protection work described in this report, must be to clarify the future of the establishment. If it is indeed intended to turn it into a training prison, then it is absolutely clear that credible plans to do so must be developed as a matter of urgency. If that ambition is to be abandoned or delayed for whatever reason, then the senior leadership at the prison need to be told as soon as possible so that they can focus on what is needed to improve the prison in its current role, and in particular to introduce a better regime that allows more prisoners out of their cells to gain access to education and work.

The current leadership and staff of the prison are clearly committed to doing what they can for the men in their care. There were many new members of staff, and although this sometimes caused some frustration for prisoners, it was pleasing to see that the senior management of the prison unequivocally saw the new staff as an opportunity to make improvements, and were taking steps to guide and mentor them in their new careers. In turn, the prison itself needs and deserves practical support from HMPPS, and to be spared the uncertainty that was inhibiting progress when we inspected.

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

Return to High Down

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