HMP North Sea Camp, HMIP Inspections

The prison was last inspected in April 2021 At the last inspection the report summary said:

HMP North Sea Camp is an open prison near Boston in Lincolnshire. At the time of our visit,  it held 336 prisoners, which was below the certified normal capacity of 420. This reduction in the population and the installation of temporary accommodation units had made it easier to implement good cohorting arrangements and provide more single rooms throughout the pandemic. Although quarantining and shielding arrangements were good,  the prison had had an outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2020. Leaders worked well with health care staff, the NHS and Public Health England to contain the outbreak.

A very limited regime had been in place for most of the last year. In comparison with   other open prisons we have visited recently, the arrangements at North Sea Camp had seemed overly restrictive, particularly in the months either side of the outbreak. For example, prisoners had been required to confine themselves to their rooms and their unit which meant that they were only allowed outside in the fresh air for a designated exercise period each day. Two weeks before our visit,  the prison had moved to stage three of the framework for recovery (see Glossary of terms – recovery plan),  which meant that prisoners now had more time in the open air in the areas around the house units,  which was a much-needed step forward.

The pandemic had resulted in the suspension of all release on temporary licence (ROTL)  other than for those needing to go to hospital and for those in jobs in the community designated as essential. This meant that for most prisoners, one of the key incentives of being in open conditions had been lost and the impact of this on their progression had been significant. Many of the peer-led initiatives within the prison had also stopped and much of the support from partner agencies remained suspended. As a result, the prison had been unable to fulfil much of its rehabilitative function throughout the last year.

Too many staff were unaware of the prison’s wider COVID-19 recovery plans and opportunities to reinstate support services had been grasped too slowly. There was a sense of frustration among prisoners and some staff that the restrictions applied to prisons generally did not take account of the unique environment of an open prison.

The prison remained safe. Violent incidents were rare and most were low level. Support for the most vulnerable was good and included regular welfare checks. Good attention was given to helping individuals maintain their commitment to living in open conditions,  and the number of prisoners returned to closed conditions for poor behaviour had decreased over the last year.

Living conditions were clean and the new modular self-contained accommodation units were impressive. The use of the independent living houses located just inside the prison grounds provided an important incentive to progression.

The mobile library facility was good, but the gym remained closed. Many prisoners were not in purposeful activity and they felt bored and frustrated after a year of the pandemic.

The core tasks of offender management work continued to be completed,    but beyond this,  the level of engagement with prisoners was too limited and many prisoners described unresponsive offender managers in the prison. Family support work had been reduced,  but social visits had restarted just before our visit and the use of video calling had increased over recent months. Resettlement opportunities remained very restricted.

Many of the prisoners presented a high risk of harm to others. Public protection work was reasonable overall, but weaknesses in the monitoring of telephone calls led us to raise a key concern and recommendation in this area.

Overall,  North Sea Camp, like many other open prisons, had been hit hard by the restrictions imposed nationally throughout much of the last year. However, the pace of recovery at the establishment needed review,  to make sure that every possible step was being taken,  at the earliest opportunity, to reinstate its focus on progression, engagement and rehabilitation.

Charlie Taylor
 HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
April 2021


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