HMIP Inspection, Swaleside

The prison was inspected in October 2021, and 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 Swaleside is a category B training prison for adult men and is part of HM Prison and Probation Service’s (HMPPS) long term and high security estate. Built mostly in the late 1980s and located on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, the prison was holding just under 1,000 prisoners at the time of our inspection, some way short of its operating capacity of 1,090. Our last full inspection of the prison was in 2018, which was followed by an independent review of progress in 2019. Overall, and notwithstanding the very real challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, outcomes for prisoners at Swaleside remained disappointing. In safety and purposeful activity, for example, outcomes were still not sufficiently good. They had deteriorated in respect to not sufficiently good and in rehabilitation and release planning they remained poor.

This was not, however, the whole story. The governor was enthusiastic and committed and he articulated clearly, although largely informally, his values[1]based vision for the prison. The energy of the leadership team was carrying the prison some distance and despite significant operational risk, it was settled and relationships were benign. Across the prison, we saw several pockets of good practice and useful endeavour. Examples included efforts to upgrade aspects of the environment, the good work of specialist facilities such as the PIPE unit, innovative arrangements to support new staff and some useful work to encourage the promotion of equality.

The prison was less effective in harnessing its strengths in a more sophisticated way to accelerate and sustain progress. Structures to oversee and supervise operational delivery, for example, were often underdeveloped or missing. The coordination of departments was weak; data was not used sufficiently to inform decision-making and there was a lack of robust planning to identify priorities and deliver improvements.

These failings were perhaps most clearly seen in the prison’s approach to rehabilitation. Most prisoners were serving over 10 years, with a third serving life or another indeterminate sentence. Nearly all presented a serious risk of harm. The progress of high-risk men, serving long sentences, was at the heart of the prison’s mission, yet for the second successive inspection we saw a lacklustre and poorly coordinated service that was failing to meet the needs of the public or prisoners. It was no surprise to us that in our survey of prisoners, fewer than half of respondents thought their time at Swaleside would make them less likely to offend.

Similarly, work was needed to improve important partnerships, notably in health care provision and facilities management. Time out of cell for prisoners was better than we sometimes see, although the recovery of the regime in the wake of the pandemic lacked ambition. In addition to some weak planning and coordination, progress across many areas of delivery, including rehabilitation and release planning, was hindered by significant shortages of staff, including specialist staff. Much of this was beyond leaders’ ability to influence directly, but it was a fundamental strategic risk and priority, which needed the intervention and support of HMPPS.

Despite the identification of some weak outcomes, we sensed that leaders and their staff were doing their best and working hard to take the prison forward. To aid this process we have made recommendations, which include the need for a more coordinated and evidence-based approach to planning, urgently needed improvements to rehabilitation and release planning, and a clear strategy, supported by HMPPS, to increase staffing.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
November 2021

Return to Swaleside

To read the full reports follow the links below

  • HMP Swaleside (844.59 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Swaleside (3-13 December 2018)
  • HMP Swaleside (844.59 kB)Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Swaleside (29 March – 8 April 2016)
  • HMP Swaleside, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Swaleside (22 April – 2 May 2014)
  • HMP Swaleside, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Swaleside (4 – 7 July 2011)
  • HMP Swaleside, Announced inspection of HMP Swaleside (31 March – 4 April 2008)

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