Inspections at HMP Lindholme

The prison was inspected in October 2020. In their report the inspectors said:

This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Lindholme on the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lindholme is a category C prison, near Doncaster, sited on an old RAF base. The prison held around 900 prisoners at the time of our visit. Over half the prisoners were high-risk offenders, with a large number (more than 200) having links to organised crime. The majority of prisoners were serving lengthy sentences, a fifth of which were indeterminate or for life.

The senior management team had implemented quarantine and shielding arrangements in accordance with national directives to manage the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus. There had been no COVID-19 cases among prisoners since the start of the pandemic, and only a small number of confirmed cases among staff. However, as we have seen in other prisons, there was little evidence of social distancing by staff or prisoners on residential units. At the time of our visit, very few staff were wearing the face masks recently made available by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). Prisoners repeatedly told us that they felt staff should wear masks to minimise transmission of the virus, especially as the local area COVID-19 alert level had moved to a higher tier.

The severely curtailed regime at the start of the pandemic restrictions in March 2020 was reasonable, but almost seven months later there had been little progress in ensuring that prisoners had adequate time out of cell or purposeful activity. The time unlocked was severely restricted to less than an hour a day for most prisoners, and it was not uncommon for time in the open air to be limited to 20 minutes in a day. Prisoners could also remain locked in their cells for 28 hours in one stretch at the   weekend. There was mounting frustration among prisoners who reported that the excessive time spent locked up was having a negative impact on their well-being, including weight gain, difficulty in sleeping and a deterioration in their mental health.

The governor had plans to ease restrictions by opening the gym, and doubling the time unlocked for outdoor exercise and activity on the wing. The management team had identified the staff resource and space required to implement these changes, and Public Health England had given its support. However, negotiations with the local staff association had not reached an agreement. While we were aware of the need to ease restrictions in a safe and measured way, progress had been far too slow and the restrictions in place were not proportionate when compared with other prisons.

The failure to improve the regime during the summer meant that prisoners were now subject to a second-wave tightening of restrictions without having had much reprieve. Following the local community’s recent move into a higher COVID-19 alert level, social visits had been suspended and the prison’s plans to move to the next stage of the HMPPS recovery plan (stage 2, see Glossary of terms) had been put on hold.

Although the prison had made significant progress in improving safety since our inspection in 2017, with a reduction in assaults by half, incidents of violence and self-harm were   now on an upward trajectory. Following a drop in violence and self-harm figures at the start of the restrictions, the number of incidents was gradually increasing back to pre-pandemic levels.

In general, the wings and outside areas were kept clean and tidy, but some shower rooms were in poor condition. A programme of refurbishment and upgrade of the older wings was under way. Despite some poor living conditions, those prisoners located on the older wings liked being able to live together on a small spur,  where they were not confined to their cells. However, we found too many recurring problems with heating and ventilation, damp walls, broken washing and drying machines, worn mattresses and lack of privacy screens. Prisoners also complained of insufficient cleaning materials to improve cleanliness to slow the spread of the virus.

The day-to-day frustrations reported to us by prisoners and the impact of the severe regime restrictions were too often exacerbated by a lack of meaningful engagement with staff. While we saw some good staff-prisoner interactions, in our survey only 64% of prisoners said that staff treated them with respect. A light-touch key worker system had been introduced since March, but many prisoners said that it was not working well. In our survey, only around a quarter of prisoners said that a member of staff had asked them in the last week how they were getting on.

Equality work had also suffered during the period of restrictions, but there was good management attention to any evidence of possible discrimination. In our survey, prisoners from a black or minority ethnic background were more negative about  staff behaviour, with fewer than half reporting that staff treated them with respect. There was, however, a creative approach to marking Black History Month under the present conditions, and the chaplaincy had responded well to the challenges of the pandemic restrictions.

Although in our survey prisoners had poor perceptions of health services, the health providers had worked effectively in managing the risks around COVID-19 and had continued to provide essential services. Restrictions on services and challenges for the prison in enabling prisoners to attend health care appointments had exacerbated waiting lists, especially for those with long-  term conditions and dental needs.

Although workshops were closed and only around 10% of prisoners were engaged in the prison’s essential jobs, the education team had recently been active in managing individualised in-c ell learning. Tutors were now also going on to the wings to see learners and work with small groups. Considerably more prisoners were engaging with education than before the COVID-19 period.

Take-up of social visits had been low, but the prison had introduced the incentive for families to buy prisoners a pack of items after the visit to encourage more visits. The prison had requested an increase in sessions available for video calling (‘Purple Visits’, see Glossary of terms) following the recent suspension of social visits.

Prisoners were frustrated at the lack of contact with their prison offender manager and the inability to progress with their sentence plan. Accredited programme delivery had ceased at the start of the restrictions in March, and plans to re-start were not well developed. However, there had still been progressive transfers of a significant number of category D prisoners to open conditions.

The measures for public protection were a concern, with five high-risk prisoners released during the pandemic restrictions without confirmation of their multi-agency public protection arrangements(MAPPA). Although not a designated resettlement prison, Lindholme had released about 20 prisoners a month. Despite this, 10 prisoners released in the previous three months had no accommodation to go to on their day of release.

Since the previous inspection there had clearly been progress,  with significant improvements in prison safety. It was especially disappointing, therefore, to find such an excessively poor regime exacerbating mounting frustration, and the deterioration of well-being for many prisoners. There was a clear need for managers and local staff associations to come to an agreement about safe and credible plans that would allow the prison regime to develop and ensure outcomes for those detained improved.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
November 2020

 Return to Lindholme

The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below: