HMIP Inspection of The Mount

The prison was last visited by HMIP in Summer 2018. The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their last report the inspectors said:

“HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire is a category C training and resettlement prison with capacity for about 1,000 men. Opened in the late 1980s, it is a relatively modern facility which has been added to in the intervening years, leaving the prison with an eclectic mix of accommodation. All those held were convicted and the clear majority were serving long sentences for serious offences, many related to violence and drugs. Some 97% of men were serving more than four years in prison, with a third of men serving more than 10 years. Over 130 of those held were serving indeterminate sentences, including life sentences.

At our last inspection of The Mount in 2015, we reported on a successful prison that was ensuring reasonable outcomes across all four of our tests of a healthy prison. This inspection, in contrast, evidenced very significant deterioration. Outcomes in safety and respect we judged to be insufficient; in purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning they were even worse and received our lowest assessment of ‘poor’. Based on the evidence available, and from the commentary of many we met, including managers, it is probable that had we inspected just a few months earlier, our assessments would have been worse still. It was clear the prison had experienced serious difficulties in recent times, although there was emergent evidence of some improvement.

Much more needed to be done to improve safety. Reception arrangements were partial with weaknesses in the prison’s approach to the systematic identification of risk or vulnerability for those newly arrived. A prisoner-led induction was adequate but needed better oversight. Levels of violence were comparatively high and mostly related to drugs and debt. A significant amount of the violence was serious and nearly half of prisoners told us they had felt unsafe while in The Mount.

Work to reduce violence was, however, very mixed. Support for vulnerable and self-isolating prisoners was developing and there was an enthusiastic, if short staffed, violence reduction team in place. Some restorative justice work aimed at perpetrators and victims of violence was encouraging and the weekly violence prevention forum considered a wide range of useful information, although to limited affect. Policies needed updating, investigations needed to be more thorough and initiatives to reduce violence needed to be applied with greater consistency.

The segregation unit was usually full and, while staff cared for those held well, the regime was minimal and governance weak. Many of those segregated were seeking sanctuary and over half left the unit on transfer. Reintegration arrangements were limited. Arrangements for the management of formal disciplinary procedures required improvement. Force was used more frequently and more often than at similar prisons. Again, governance and arrangements for accountability were seriously lacking. Simple measures such as switching on body-worn cameras were not complied with. The use of special accommodation was similarly higher than in comparable prisons and oversight too was not robust. Security arrangements were broadly proportionate, except for drug supply reduction work and the follow-up to intelligence. Less than half of required intelligence-led searches were completed and most suspicion drug tests were missed. Mandatory drug testing indicated that nearly a third of prisoners were using illegal drugs, a fact that was critically undermining the ability of he prison to remain safe or achieve its main purpose.

Tragically, there had been four self-inflicted deaths since we last inspected, but we were reassured that most recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) following their investigations were being followed. An exception was an ongoing inability to ensure that cell call bells were answered promptly, a matter that needed to be fixed without further delay. Self-harm had also increased but remained lower than in comparable prisons. Generally, the care offered to men in crisis was good and the prison was looking to develop facilities that further supported well-being and care for the vulnerable.

There was evidence that since we last inspected staff-prisoner relationships had deteriorated. Only just over half of prisoners felt respected, despite some positive interaction that we observed. The situation had not been helped by staff shortages that were only beginning to be rectified. The prison was not overcrowded, but living conditions were often quite shabby and run down. Outside areas were tidy but plagued by rats. Very few prisoners thought the food was good, with some justification, but consultation, application and complaints arrangements were beginning to improve. The promotion of equality had declined significantly and negative perceptions were common among many with protected characteristics. Equality and the promotion of diversity at The Mount needed to become a greater priority, and is something we highlight in our main recommendations. Health provision was generally good.

Staff shortages were the underlying reason for a restricted regime that had been in place for almost a year. About a fifth of prisoners were locked up during the working day and there was only sufficient full-time activity for about two-thirds of the population. Workshop provision was poor, not enough was done to support English and maths skills and preparation for employment on release was inadequate. Allocation to activities was weak and attendance poor – although behaviour was good – and too few completed qualifications. Our partners in Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work provision to be ‘inadequate’, their lowest assessment.

Little was done to help prisoners maintain family ties and work to support offender management was severely undermined by staff shortages. About 40% of prisoners had no offender assessment system (OASys) assessment of risks and needs and it was clear to us that this key task was peripheral to the prison’s priorities. Prisoners expressed real and justifiable frustration at their inability to progress through their sentence from The Mount. Public protection and pre-release work was similarly lacking and, for example, about a quarter of those released were immediately homeless.

The evidence we found made very clear to us that The Mount was a prison undergoing significant difficulties. Across a broad range of indicators there had been deterioration in recent years, not helped by crippling staff shortages. There was some encouragement in that new staff would be arriving at the prison within the coming months, and managers were keen to emphasise that they saw the prison as being in recovery and following an improving trajectory. There was emergent evidence to support this view but it would be complacent to presume the prison’s future is secure. The prison was neither safe enough nor sufficiently respectful. In terms of its key mission to train and rehabilitate, it was absolutely failing. Resources are important but they are not the whole picture. There needed to be some deep and joined-up thinking at The Mount about priorities, purpose and how improvement is to be implemented and sustained.

 

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
July 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

 Return to The Mount 

To read the full reports follow the links below