HMIP Inspection of Thameside

The prison was given an inspection in May 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 Thameside is a modern prison forming part  of a group with HMP Belmarsh and HMP Isis in south east London. It opened in 2012 and is a local prison serving the courts of east and south east London. It is run by Serco, and at the time of the inspection held some 1,200 prisoners, both sentenced and remand. A feature of the prison is the extremely high turnover of prisoners, with the average stay in Thameside being a mere 36 days. The prison was last inspected in September 2014.

On this occasion inspectors found that the prison had a generally settled and respectful atmosphere. By and large the buildings were in good condition and the grounds were well maintained. In the centre of the grounds was an AstroTurf football pitch, which seemed to be in near constant use and was clearly a feature that was appreciated and used by many prisoners, as was the gymnasium.

Like many other prisons, Thameside faced challenges connected to violence. Levels of violence were high, and had not reduced since the last inspection. However, there was a good violence reduction plan in place and although there had not been a reduction in violence, Thameside had bucked the trend in comparable prisons as it had not experienced the huge rises in violence seen elsewhere. This was a significant achievement. There were also good systems and interventions in place to understand and handle the problem of gangs.

Thameside was far from immune to the problems presented by the ready availability of drugs in prisons. In our survey, one prisoner in four told us it was easy to get hold of illicit drugs, and the mandatory drug testing results tended to confirm this. Although the prison was well sighted on the issues and there was a focused drug supply reduction strategy in place, the fact remained that too many drugs were still available and more needed to be done.

Generally, relationships between staff and prisoners were good, although on occasions staff did not appear to be very visible on the wings, and as a result a certain amount of low-level poor behaviour went unchallenged. At times it was apparent that some staff lacked the confidence to intervene in an appropriate way. Our survey suggested that prisoners had little confidence in the complaints system, and indeed some of the responses we saw were poor. A further indication that attention needed to be paid to those things that can add to the frustration of life in prison was that cell call bells were not answered as promptly as they should be. This pointed to a lack of management oversight and needed to be addressed.

The area of respect, which we described at the time of the last inspection as good – our highest assessment – had declined. This was because of problems with the provision of health care services. There was, to put it simply, a mismatch between supply and demand. It may well be that there were a number of reasons for this, including the increase in the number of prisoners since the level of provision was first commissioned or local difficulties in recruitment. Whatever the reasons, they needed to be understood and addressed. Once prisoners had access to health care it was very good. The problem was that there was not enough of it to meet the need.

There were not enough activity places and attendance was not good enough. There was provision for around 70% of the population, and around an 80% attendance rate. This meant that, overall, around 55% of prisoners got to activities, which was not enough in a jail of this kind. The very high turnover of prisoners at Thameside had a direct impact on education and vocational achievements, as too many prisoners were starting courses that they could not complete because of release or transfer. Those who managed to stay on accredited courses achieved well.

Overall, HMP Thameside was a relatively good prison, and we have identified an unusually high number of good practice points from which other establishments could learn. In the current climate, for a local prison to be assessed as reasonably good in three of the four healthy prison tests is a real achievement. The leadership of the prison were clearly committed to making improvements and building on what had already been achieved. We were encouraged to see that there were clear plans to make progress in some key areas, and this augured well for the future.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

July 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

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

  • HMP Thameside (581.84 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Thameside (2–3, 8–12 May 2017)
  • HMP Thameside
  • Report on an announced inspection of HMP Thameside (1 – 5 September 2014)
  • HMP Thameside
  • Unannounced inspection of HMP Thameside (14–17 January 2013)

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