HMIP Inspections of HMP Northumberland

The prison was given an inspection in August 2017, 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:

HMP Northumberland is a category C training prison which was formed in 2011 from the amalgamation of HMP Acklington and HMYOI Castington. As a result it sits on a very large site and, despite the fact that the precursor establishments have been physically and organisationally joined, the visitor is left with a sense that the unification is still a work in progress in terms of the establishment being a cohesive single entity. There are 1,300 men held in the prison, spread across 15 house blocks, and many of these house blocks have a distinct character of their own. The last inspection in 2014 yielded a fairly critical report.

This inspection made exactly the same judgements in each of the healthy prison tests as at the 2014 inspection, but it would be a mistake to assume that there has been no change. It has been a far from static picture, as this report describes. Before significant progress could be made, some basics needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

For instance, violence had more than doubled since the last inspection. This was reflected in our survey, which showed that 58% of prisoners had felt unsafe at some time since arriving at HMP Northumberland. This was significantly higher than at similar prisons and much higher than at the last inspection. It was also troubling that 28% of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of this inspection, a very high figure by any standards. In the face of this grim picture, one would have expected there to be detailed analysis of the violence, leading to a comprehensive violence reduction plan. This was not what we found. There were plans for the future, but these had not yet come to fruition.

Since the last inspection there had been six self-inflicted deaths at the prison. However, we found that few of the shortcomings identified by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) had been addressed. This was difficult to comprehend and demanded the personal attention of senior management.

Prison leaders across the nation are aware of the destabilising and destructive effect of drugs in too many of our prisons. HMP Northumberland was far from immune to this phenomenon, and indeed was suffering more severely than many other prisons. In our survey, 61% of men said that it was easy or very easy to obtain illicit drugs in the jail, and 21% said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the prison. These were very high figures indeed, and while it was true that there was a drug supply reduction strategy, the simple fact was that it was clearly not working. The proof of this was in the mandatory drug testing positive rate of over 17% which, when combined with the new psychoactive substances (NPS) positive testing rate, gave a combined positive rate of just under 34%. This was far too high and if not addressed would undermine ambitions to improve many other facets of prison life.

In terms of our judgement as to whether prisoners are treated with respect, there was a mixed picture. There was some excellent work being carried out on a residential unit dedicated to older prisoners, and it was obvious that the men valued the opportunity to be there among their peers, away from what was described to me by them as the noise, violence and drugs that afflicted the other residential units. There are lessons from this unit that could and should be promulgated and replicated elsewhere. We also saw many positive interactions between staff and prisoners, and 80% of prisoners in our survey said that staff treated them with respect. However, set against this was the fact that many cells were dirty and ill-equipped, with unscreened toilets. There were also serious concerns about some aspects of medicines management , which as a result is made the subject of one of our main recommendations.

In terms of resettlement, our judgement was that this was ‘not sufficiently good’, but this was marginal and serious consideration was given as to whether it should be judged as ‘poor’. There was an up-to-date resettlement strategy, but this needed to be translated into action. Offender supervisors had a very high caseload, and all too often they were redeployed to other duties. Of particular concern was the fact that 59% of MAPPA (multi-agency public protection arrangements) nominals were being released without confirmation of their MAPPA level. This was clearly unacceptable in terms of the risk this could potentially pose to the public.

There was a very clear determination on the part of the director and leadership of the prison to make improvements, and a palpable energy and enthusiasm about their wish to do so. It is to their credit that there were a wide range of plans and strategies in place, but many of them had yet to achieve their desired effect. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is often encouraged to believe that if we had inspected an establishment a few months later than we actually did, we would have seen significant improvements. This report, as with all of our reports, conveys our actual findings at the time of the inspection. It may well be that the plans we were told about will, in due course, lead to improvement, and this may happen at HMP Northumberland. It is to be hoped that this will be the case.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

September 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Northumberland

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