HMP Leicester, HMIP inspections

The last HMIP inspection of the prison was carried out late in 2020. The full report can be read by clicking on the links below, but the inspectors said in their introduction:

This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Leicester on the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. HMP Leicester is a small and ageing city-centre, local prison which opened in 1828. There were 294 prisoners at the time of our visit, slightly less than the operating capacity, but many more than the prison was designed for. Some areas of t he prison were cramped and social distancing was a challenge for staff and prisoners. In areas such as wing offices, we frequently observed several staff gathered with little regard to maintaining a safe distance.

There had been welcome investment to improve conditions at the prison before the COVID-19 crisis. Improvements to communal showers were appreciated by prisoners and the planned introduction of in-cell telephones in early 2021 will help them to maintain family contact. The recent installation of a body scanner helped to combat illicit items.

The prison had a high turnover and had continued to serve the courts and manage many short-term sentences throughout the pandemic. T he challenges faced by the prison were compounded by the high rates of COVID-19 in the city and the local lockdown that had been in place since the summer.

In March 2020, several prison staff had been absent with COVID-19 symptoms and in April 2020 a prisoner with COVID-19 symptoms had died. The senior management team had taken swift action to implement quarantine and shielding arrangements shortly before the imposition of national restrictions. This had helped to keep prisoners safe from the spread of infection and there had been just eight known positive tests among prisoners since March, with the last recorded case in October.

It was acknowledged that the severely curtailed regime at the start of t he pandemic was sensible to keep people safe, but 10 months later a very cautious approach remained and progress towards recovery was s low. Limited improvement in some areas had been hampered further by the second national lockdown shortly before our visit.

Oversight of areas such as safety had continued during the pandemic and the focus on the imminent risk of COVID-19 spreading in the prison was understandable. Many strategic meetings had been suspended soon after restrictions were introduced, though some key meetings such as equality and diversity had restarted during the summer but were not yet fully functioning. T here had been no formal oversight of segregation procedures during 2020, which was concerning.

Arrangements had been made to make sure that reception procedures minimised the risk of transmission of the virus. COVID-19 testing was now routinely offered to all arriving prisoners and a programme had recently been implemented to offer staff testing. Some aspects of early days arrangements lacked adequate oversight by staff and time out of cell for those on the reverse cohort unit was very limited, especially at weekends.

Recorded incidents of violence and use of force had reduced during the pandemic. Prison managers attributed this to a combination of the restricted regime and positive staff-prisoner relationships. In contrast, reported incidents of self-harm had remained high compared to similar prisons and one in five prisoners who responded to our survey said that they felt unsafe.

The use of the Lambert unit lacked clarity. During the restricted regime it had been used for prisoners with complex mental health needs and those with challenging behaviour, which were incompatible. We witnessed a prisoner being given an unofficial punishment following an outburst towards staff. The Lambert unit and segregation unit lacked strategic governance to make sure they were used appropriately.

Most interactions between staff and prisoners were positive, but formal, structured key worker sessions remained suspended. Prisoners who were identified as vulnerable received a daily welfare check, though these were too superficial to identify emerging issues. Senior managers were often visible during the day, but formal communication with prisoners was largely limited to printed material and there had been no consultation forums since March.

Many cells were cold with little natural light and this was even more pronounced on the prison’s subterranean level. Not all cells were adequately equipped and access to clothing was a concern, for example, prisoners were only issued with two pairs of underpants a week.

In our survey, only 47% of prisoners said that health services were good. Despite this, we found that the health providers had worked well to help manage the risk of infection and were well prepared for any future outbreak. The regime restrictions and social distancing requirements had reduced access to some aspects of health care, but waiting lists for most services had been reduced. The use of a dedicated health care assistant for prompt assessment of social care needs and mental health support on release was a positive initiative.

The regime was consistent for most prisoners, but it remained severely limited and there had been very little improvement since March. Most prisoners had at most 50 minutes out of cell, including 30minutes in the open air. The library had continued to operate, but access was limited, and the ordering system was not robust for prisoners who could not attend. The recent introduction of classroom-based education for a small number of prisoners was encouraging, but too many remained locked in their cells with little meaningful activity. The gym facilities had remained closed since March, despite work by staff to plan for the reintroduction of COVID-19 secure indoor PE.

The ability of prisoners to maintain contact with their children and families had been limited throughout the restricted regime. Social visits had not restarted until October and had then been further curtailed to reflect national restrictions. Actions taken following an infringement of physical contact between a prisoner and his child were disproportionate and lacked compassion. The absence of face-to-face family support work also affected family engagement.

Most prisoners had an up-to-date assessment of their risks and needs, but the quality of offender management had been undermined by the lack of face-to-face contact. There was an over-reliance on a self-reporting questionnaire or outdated information to complete assessments. The lack of direct contact had also affected the quality of resettlement planning for the large number of prisoners released from Leicester. The introduction of a well-used, direct phone line for prisoners to contact the offender management unit and resettlement teams was a positive intervention to address some of these concerns.

Managers, staff and prisoners had responded well to the early stages of the pandemic with a focus on reducing the risk of transmission and maintaining an environment safe from COVID-19. The continuing local community restrictions had understandably affected some aspects of recovery, but progress had been slow in re-introducing key strategic meetings and consultations with prisoners. More focus was needed on reducing the high levels of self-harm. T he reduction in violence was welcome, but an emergency restricted regime is not a long-term solution to keeping prisoners safe and strategic planning will be needed to maintain any improvement when recovery from the pandemic gathers pace.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
December 2020

Return to Leicester

To see the full report go to the Ministry of Justice web site

This section contains the reports for Leicester from 2001 until present