HMIP Inspections, Standford Hill

The prison was given an unannounced  inspection in August and September 2019. The full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In his report the inspector said:

Standford Hill is an open resettlement prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. It holds category D prisoners who are coming to the end of their sentences and are being prepared for their resettlement back into the community. Many had spent long periods in closed conditions – during our inspection, 58% of prisoners were serving an indeterminate sentence or a determinate sentence of over 10 years. At our last inspection in 2015, we found that outcomes for prisoners were good in three of our healthy prison tests and reasonably good in the fourth. At this inspection, the prison had maintained these outcomes and was doing well in fulfilling its purpose as a resettlement prison.

The prison remained safe and calm, and prisoners were well behaved. There had been no fights or assaults in the previous six months. Staff rarely used force, but we were disappointed to find that officers did not routinely complete paperwork following the application of ratchet handcuffs when returning prisoners to closed conditions. This omission meant some force was effectively unaccounted for. Prisoners’ good behaviour was driven not by the formal rewards or disciplinary schemes but by the establishment’s positive ethos and culture. Prisoners understood the freedoms and opportunities the prison offered and did not want to risk a return to closed conditions. At the last inspection, the prison took a zero-tolerance approach to infringements of the prison rules, with about 10 prisoners a month being returned to closed conditions. At this inspection, the prison responded to poor behaviour in a more nuanced way by trying to understand the prisoners’ poor behaviour and, where appropriate, offering a second chance to remain in open conditions. This innovative approach was promising and we found no evidence that the prison was taking undue risks; around five prisoners a month were still returned to closed conditions.

Relationships between staff and prisoners were strong, despite some consistent reports of a few uninterested officers. Prisoners’ perception of the food was negative and may have been driven by the fact that the food was prepared in a neighbouring prison. Better management of the serveries might have mitigated some of these perceptions. Consultation, application and complaints mechanisms were reasonably good and contributed to the smooth running of the prison. At our last inspection, fewer black and minority ethnic prisoners were satisfied with their treatment than white prisoners across many areas of prison life. At this inspection, our survey suggested equality of treatment had improved. An equality and diversity manager had been appointed, but more work was still required to address some prisoners’ perceptions of unequal treatment. Health services were reasonably good, but we received many credible complaints about disrespectful health care staff. The service was further undermined by poor opening times. Other than a nurse-led triage clinic once a fortnight, all services were held during the working day, which reduced access for the many prisoners working or studying outside the prison.

Appropriately for an open prison, prisoners were never locked in their rooms and were able to move around the site. A key strength of the prison was the opportunity it afforded prisoners to study, train and work. The prison had addressed most weaknesses relating to purposeful activity that we identified at our last inspection. No prisoners were unemployed and 48% regularly worked, studied or trained in the community. Prisoners of all abilities could engage in a challenging activity, from level 1 in mathematics and English, to level 3 trade qualifications, through to university courses. The prison’s partnership with East Kent College was impressive, but prison managers still needed more oversight over the quality of its delivery. Prisoners could study electrical installation, plumbing and information and communications technology (ICT) with members of the community at the Old Mill Training Centre just outside the prison. Others were trained outside the prison in scaffolding, fork-lift truck driving and rail track maintenance. These and other opportunities were tailored to meet in-demand skills in the labour market. Consequently, 55% of prisoners were in employment on the day they were released from the prison. Despite this positive picture, there was still room for improvement. Prisoners’ punctuality when attending activities in the prison was poor and the cumbersome ‘dynamic purchasing system’ meant prisoners could not study art and business enterprises at the time of our inspection.

Work to rehabilitate prisoners and plan for their release continued to be good. The prison, along with the children’s charity Spurgeons, offered prisoners a wide range of opportunities to maintain and rebuild their family lives. The outstanding visitors’ centre was one of the best in the prison estate and was used to host regular and constructive family days. Offender management work was good. Unusually, almost all prisoners had an up-to-date assessment of their risks and needs. Release on temporary licence (ROTL) was used appropriately and safely to reintegrate prisoners into the community. Arrangements fo r protecting the public were robust. The pathways enhanced resettlement service provided additional support and resources for prisoners with personality difficulties, many of them serving indeterminate sentences, and was a welcome development. The community rehabilitation company helped prisoners plan for their release, and the quality of their work was good. We were impressed to find that 96% of prisoners discharged in the previous six months went into settled and sustainable accommodation.

Despite a few criticisms and the identification of a small number of areas for improvement, highlighted throughout the report, the prison fulfilled its resettlement function well. The prison’s calm atmosphere, the good staff-prisoner relationships, its impressive education, training and work opportunities and the solid rehabilitative work clearly motivated and incentivised prisoners and gave them a good chance of a successful return to the community on their release.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                  September 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Standford Hill  

To read the full reports follow the links below:

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