HMIP Inspection, Swaleside

The prison was inspected in March and April 2016, 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:

Swaleside is a category B training prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. At the time of this inspection it held just over 1,100 adult men, all serving long determinate or indeterminate sentences. Its catchment area is mainly London and the South East but as a national resource it also held men from across England and Wales. At the last inspection in Spring 2014, we reported that significant staffing shortages were having a negative impact on outcomes for prisoners, and we deemed safety, purposeful activity and resettlement to be not sufficiently good. In many respects, outcomes at this inspection have further deteriorated in all four of our healthy prison tests, with safety in particular being of concern. To put it bluntly, the only sensible conclusion we could reach, on the basis of the very clear evidence before us, was that at the time of the inspection Swaleside was not a safe prison.

It is important to understand some of the context for this. Swaleside had been a struggling prison for some time, and the population had become more challenging, with a much higher proportion of category B prisoners, often relatively young men early in their sentence and still pushing boundaries. This change in the demographic had happened very recently, and it was relevant that nearly half of the men held had been at the prison for less than 12 months. Meanwhile, many staff had become demotivated and overwhelmed and too many of them were temporary or inexperienced. Moreover, there was the all too familiar story of a lack of consistency in the leadershipof the prison. There had been four governors in the past five years, which we were told had contributed to what we perceived as a sense of drift and decline.

I would urge readers to study the details of this report to understand fully the depth and breadth of failings that have contributed to this poor inspection report. Some issues are so stark as to warrant specific mention in these introductory remarks.

Levels of violence were far too high and many incidents were serious. This was reflected in our survey, where 69% of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some time while at Swaleside, a result which was significantly higher than at similar prisons. The use of force was high, and the documentation associated with its use and justification was totally inadequate. Again in our survey, 52% of men said it was easy or very easy to get drugs at the prison, and 45% said the same about alcohol. The diversion of prescribed medications was worrying, and in-possession arrangements required prompt attention. Some good work had started to address these challenges, but it was disappointing to report that management of disciplinary processes was inadequate and the segregation unit was filthy and poor in all respects.

On a more positive note, men valued the fact that they had a single cell, and also the opportunity to cook their own food in wing kitchens. But many areas in the prison were dirty, and prisoners faced a number of challenges and delays in obtaining the basics of daily life.

Just as at the previous inspection, there was still a significant shortfall of some 200 available activity places to enable prisoners to be fully occupied. This was particularly unacceptable in a training prison so it was encouraging to see credible and funded plans were in place to close this gap and to improve both the range and quality of the work available at the prison. We also found good practice in the excellent use of prisoner mentors across the prison and in the Inside Out initiative. The Open Academy was an innovative approach to supporting men involved in distance learning.

Some good work had been done to develop support in maintaining contact with families and friends, and the prison continued to offer a good and appropriate range of offending behaviour programmes and an excellent PIPE (psychologically informed planned environment) which formed part of the national pathway to treat prisoners with personality disorder. However, much offender management work was inadequate in its key aims of supporting men to reduce their risk, and providing men serving very long sentences with a sense of progression and hope

Despite the fact that by any standards this is a poor report about a dangerous prison, we left Swaleside with some optimism that the prison had started to stabilise. The new governor appeared to have a very clear understanding of the challenges he and his team faced. He had re-energised his senior management team, and his approach was one of visible and energetic leadership. The very early signs, at the time of the inspection, were that his determination to grip difficult issues had been welcomed by many prisoners and staff alike, who told us they wanted to see the prison improve. The challenge will be to build and maintain this early momentum and embed the changes needed to make Swaleside the decent, respectful and purposeful prison that it should be.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

May 2016

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 (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)