HMIP Inspections of High Down

The prison was given an inspection very early in April 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:

This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP High Down, a large prison in Surrey holding about 1,150 men. Our visit highlighted a number of significant concerns about the treatment and conditions of prisoners, but one issue above all had seriously affected the running of the prison. .At our 2018 inspection, my predecessor,  Peter Clarke,  expressed his serious concern over the uncertainty about the prison’s future role. I include the relevant paragraph from that 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.”

Three years later, and five years after High Down’s transition from a category B local prison to a category C training prison was first proposed, it is astonishing that this situation had still not been resolved.

The current governor had been asked to complete the recategorisation during the pandemic, which was no easy task. She had accepted category C prisoners from across the estate. Plans were advanced and a newsletter had even been sent to prisoners confirming the new direction for High Down. Then very shortly before our visit and just after this news was communicated to prisoners, senior HMPPS leaders suspended the change in function. High Down remains a local category B prison, but without the full-time activity or offending behaviour programme places that are needed by the majority of the population.

There had been no prisoner or staff deaths due to COVID-19, but quarantine arrangements for newly arrived prisoners were not well organised and risked transmitting infection across the population. Hundreds of prisoners had been isolated following possible contact with infection during the months before our visit. They had faced isolation periods of 10 days with no time out of cell at all other than a weekly shower. A good number had experienced these levels of isolation two or three times. The scale of isolation was not mitigated by welfare checks, which were irregular for most prisoners  and not of sufficient quality for those identified as needing extra support.

Recorded levels of self-harm had reduced during the pandemic, but the number of assessment, care in custody and teamwork ( ACCT)  documents was high and this had affected the quality of support for those at risk of suicide and self-harm. Sometimes there was no care map and it was not clear how staff were supposed to help the individual. Recorded levels of violence had decreased,  but use of force by staff remained at pre-pandemic levels. Drugs were still a serious problem.

 Communal areas were clean. Many prisoners continued to share small, cramped cells designed for one. The fragility of the regime meant that prisoners did not always get a daily shower. Very little equality or diversity work had been completed in the previous 12 months and some groups such as foreign nationals who spoke little English were struggling.

Health care provision was poor and caused us serious concern. There had been a lack of consistent leadership, with four heads of health care in the year. There had been severe staff shortages and health care staff told us they felt compromised by the unmanageable demands on their time. Basic processes, such as making sure that emergency response bags were up to date and properly equipped, had failed.

Progress had been too slow to provide prisoners with purposeful activity 12 months into COVID-19 restrictions. Most prisoners still had only one hour out of their cells each day, sometimes less when time in the open air was cancelled. It had taken five months to launch in-cell education packs. About 350 prisoners had a full-time job, but there were no clear plans to provide the rest of the population with work once the pandemic ended.

The work of the offender management unit was fundamentally undermined by the decision to reverse the prison’s change of function. There was little contact between prison offender managers and prisoners and there was a large backlog of assessments of prisoners’ risk and needs. There was a good focus on the release of high-risk prisoners, but staffing difficulties had prevented officers from listening to the calls of prisoners who required public protection monitoring. There was a real chance that important information about risk could be missed.

We found a troubled prison confronting difficult, long-term challenges. It is a serious indictment of HMPPS leadership that the governor and her team should have been asked to spend so much of the pandemic distracted by a change in function which was ultimately suspended. The prison leadership need an early, definite and final decision on the future direction of the establishment and category C prisoners who were brought to High Down deserve to know how their needs will be met to help them emerge from prison with less risk of reoffending.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
April 2021

Return to High Down

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