HMIP Inspection, Swaleside

The prison was inspected in December 2018, 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 on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. A relatively modern facility, the prison opened in the late 1980s but has had additional accommodation added to it over the past 20 years. The prison now holds up to 1,111 convicted adult men, many of whom are serving long sentences for very serious offences. At the time of the inspection, for example, well over half of the men held were serving sentences of more than 10 years, and a further 40% were serving indeterminate sentences, the clear majority of these life sentences. Well over half of those held had been at the prison for more than a year, with many held for much longer, suggesting a comparatively settled population in terms of prisoner turnover. It is true to say that the nature of offending perpetrated by Swaleside prisoners meant that many of those held were high risk and presented a high risk of harm to others. Swaleside is unquestionably a difficult place to run and an institution that presents many risks.

 When we last inspected in early 2016, we described a prison that was dangerous and had experienced some deterioration but which we believed was beginning to stabilise. At this inspection we found a prison that was safer and more respectful, but where progress was very lopsided, with work to help rehabilitate prisoners and reduce individual risk actually getting worse.

Our findings suggested to us that there had been a significant amount of effort to improve the safety of Swaleside. Arrangements to receive new prisoners generally worked well, with very good induction procedures for mainstream prisoners. They were not as good for the vulnerable population. Violence had risen considerably since the last inspection, and although the number of assaults had reduced in recent months, many assaults were serious. Of the 204 assaults that had taken place in the preceding six months, well over a third were against staff and during that same period the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults was higher than at other similar prisons. In our survey, some 35% of prisoners told us they felt unsafe. The prison had been active in the face of this challenge and we report on several important initiatives to try to improve the situation. But many were very new and, overall, the prison’s approach was not well coordinated and its effectiveness untested. The vital task of reducing violence remained a priority and is therefore the subject of one of our main recommendations.

Another main recommendation concerns supervision and accountability for the use of special accommodation, which in our view was not always used legitimately. The use of force and of segregation were similarly high, although accountability and supervision were much better; indeed, some segregation unit interventions were impressive. Security was generally applied proportionately but mandatory drug testing suggested the widespread use of illicit substances. There appeared, however, to be some very good work being done to reduce drug supply, although much of it was quite new and it was too soon to be sure of its effectiveness.

Levels of self-harm were lower than at comparable prisons, but there had been five self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection. Work to embed recommendations following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) fatal incident investigations was weak and local policies to reduce self-harm were limited. Self-harm incidents were not investigated and the case management support for many of those in crisis was mixed. Despite this, many prisoners told us they felt well cared for and work to help reduce self-harm among prisoners with complex needs was impressive, with some elements constituting good practice in our view.

Relationships between staff and prisoners were generally very good, with over 70% of respondents to our survey saying they thought staff treated them with respect. Many staff were, however, quite inexperienced and we saw examples of staff who lacked the confidence to challenge poor behaviour or insist upon compliance with daily work routines. The quality of the environment was mixed but most cells were well maintained. The standard of cleanliness, however, did not correlate with the plethora of supposed prisoner cleaners. Consultation, application and complaints arrangement were very mixed and needed greater managerial grip so that they could be delivered in a fully effective way. Similarly, the promotion of equality was not good enough, with outcomes for many with protected characteristics just adequate. Health services were reasonably good overall.

 For a training prison, outcomes in purposeful activity were not sufficiently good. During the inspection we found 32% of men locked in their cell during the working day. This was an improvement compared to the last inspection, but was still poor. For those who went to work, the quality of most activities had improved and the quality of teaching and instruction were good. Good standards of work were evident in many aspects of education, skills and work and, for those engaged, the achievement of qualifications was high. All this was undermined by poor allocation to activity, under-employment, poor attendance and poor punctuality. Putting this right was a priority for the prison and the subject of the third of our main recommendations.

Core tasks of a prison that manages the type of prisoner held at Swaleside are meaningful sentence management, the reduction of risk of harm and ultimately the protection of the public. In these tasks Swaleside was failing badly. The prison had no useful assessment of need, and the delivery of offender management and sentence planning had been neglected. There were too few staff engaged in offender management work, too few prisoners arrived with or had an up-to-date offender assessment system (OASys) assessment and levels of contact were poor and almost exclusively reactive. Public protection arrangements were weak and offending behaviour interventions limited, especially for the prison’s population of sexual offenders.

There was much to commend at Swaleside. Managers were energetic, caring and innovative, and staff, though inexperienced, were proactive and helpful. Improvements were clearly to be seen, as reflected in our assessments. That said, many improvements were undermined by failings elsewhere. Some failings had been addressed at the expense of others. For example, while there had been some incremental improvements in safety, many prisoners were not fully engaged in the regime and some prisoners’ rehabilitation needs were not being met. Managers need to take a step back and think carefully about how they will not only sustain and integrate their achievements but also take a holistic approach to improving outcomes across all four of our healthy prison assessments.

 Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                                                    February 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

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)