The prison was last inspected in early November 2017. The inspectors report said in their report:
“HMP Leeds is a large, inner-city Victorian prison which at the time of this inspection held over 1,100 men. The prison was last inspected in December 2015. On that occasion there had been a deterioration in standards, with declines in three of our four healthy prison tests. This inspection found a further decline in the area of purposeful activity, and no improvement in the other three tests. Perhaps this should come as no surprise given that the prison is one of the most seriously overcrowded in the country, with 91% of the cells holding more prisoners than they were designed for. It is also particularly concerning that, yet again, we found Leeds to be an unsafe prison, with our assessment of the area of safety being a very clear ‘poor’.
Levels of violence of all kinds were far too high. The data was very clear: not only did prisoners feel no safer than at the last inspection, the harsh reality was that they were indeed less safe. Violence, self-harm and the use of force were all high. Several staff had been suspended or dismissed for misbehaviour when using force. Governance of the use of force had only recently started to improve, but was still not good enough and very poor in relation to the high use of special accommodation. Particularly troubling was the fact that, since the last inspection, there had been four self-inflicted deaths, and another occurred during this inspection. The day after the inspection ended, there was an apparent homicide in the jail, and a few days after that another self-inflicted death.
Neither has Leeds proved to be immune from the impact of illicit drugs, with over 60% of prisoners telling us it was easy to get hold of drugs and around a third testing positive during random tests. Faced with the weight of the evidence, our judgement that HMP Leeds was unsafe was inevitable. Despite being an old, overcrowded prison, it was generally clean, although there had been recent shortages of some basic necessities, such as bedding, and the screening of toilets in cells was still inadequate. An excellent initiative was the small group of staff and prisoners called ‘Q-branch’, who carried out maintenance tasks of varying kinds around the prison. They clearly took great pride in their work, and their impact was very impressive when the small size of the unit was taken into account.
An issue that needed to be understood and addressed was the poor perception that too many prisoners had of the staff. Only 58% of prisoners said that most staff treated them with espect. At the time of this inspection, 47% of the staff were still in their probationary period, and prisoners expressed frustration at their inexperience and lack of knowledge of basic procedures.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the prison was the area of rehabilitation and release planning. Although more needed to be done to ensure that there was proactive rehabilitative work with all prisoners, the effective joint working of the offender management unit (OMU), the community rehabilitation company (CRC) and the probation team was impressive, particularly in light of the fact that Leeds is a busy local prison with a high throughput of prisoners. The ‘departure lounge’, where CRC and other workers met prisoners immediately on release to provide contact and support, was a very good facility.
Despite our troubling findings in the area of safety, there were some cautious grounds for optimism. Unlike far too many local prisons, Leeds had not slipped dramatically backwards in terms of its performance in recent years. While it had not managed to buck the trends in violence and the prevalence of drugs that have afflicted much of the wider prison estate, neither had it experienced the shockingly high levels of increase seen in many other prisons. And for that, credit must be given to the energetic and focused leadership of the senior management team. There were a number of credible plans and opportunities that had yet to come to fruition in terms of improving outcomes. An inspection is a snapshot of what we find in a prison at the time, and our judgements are reflections of those findings. However, if HMP Leeds can become a safer place in which to hold prisoners, there is no reason why it should not make progress in other areas and show a much stronger performance at the time of the next inspection.
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below:
- HMP Leeds (645.69 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Leeds (30, 31 October, 6–10 November 2017)
- HMP Leeds (PDF, 832.20 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Leeds (30 November – 11 December 2015)
- HMP Leeds, Announced inspection of HMP Leeds (8–18 January 2013)
- HMP Leeds, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Leeds (3-12 March 2010)
- HMP Leeds, Unannounced inspection of HMP Leeds (5-14 December 2007)