HMIP Reports, HMP & YOI Doncaster

The prison was given an inspection in September 2019, 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 & YOI Doncaster i s a local category B and resettlement prison situated near the centre of Doncaster. It was last inspected in July 2017 on which occasion we found that outcomes for prisoners were not sufficiently good in three of our four healthy prison tests. On that occasion we made 46 recommendations, just over half of which had not been achieved by the time of this latest inspection two years later. At the time of this inspection the prison held some 1,100 prisoners. It was a young and transient population, with many prisoners spending little time there before moving on or being released. The prison is run by Serco and has benefitted from consistent leadership.

In terms of safety, we were very concerned by the increased levels of self-harm, and by the fact that there had been five self-inflicted deaths in the year leading up to the inspection. Tragically there was another shortly after the inspection. Not all recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in response to these deaths were being regularly reviewed, nor was action take n to ensure that they were embedded in operational practice. More needed to be done to understand an d analyse what sat behind the increase in self -harm. The number of prisoners subject to assessment and care procedures because of the perceived risk they posed to themselves was in danger of becoming s o great as to be unmanageable. In that context it was also concerning to find that there was no Listeners scheme in place. Acts of violence towards others presented a complicated picture. A recent downward trend in assaults was welcome, but levels were still higher than at the previous inspection and higher than at comparable prisons. Once again, the prison needed to do more to understand what was happening, where and why.

As is the case with so many local prisons, the presence of illicit drugs was a real and continuing problem. Much good work had bee n done to try to intercept the flow into the jail but despite this, in our survey 61% of prisoners told us it was easy to get hold of drugs. This is a very high figure, but at the same time it was reassuring to see that the positive mandatory drug testing rate had fallen to around 16%. The prison had put many sensible measures in place and I hope that these will have an impact on this serious problem.

Despite the fact that Doncaster is a reasonably modern prison, it was badly overcrowded. Around 700 of the 1,100 prisoners were held doubled up in cells that were designed to hold only one person. I saw many cells holding two people that were simply not fit to do so, on grounds of both size and simple decency. It will not be good enough, in response to this situation, for HM Prison and Probation Services (HMPPS) to fall back upon their usual explanation that a senior manager has certified that a certain number of prisoners (in this case 1,145) could in their view be held in decent conditions in this establishment. The sophistry that flows from this is that, in the view of HMPPS, conditions such as those at Doncaster are described as ‘crowded’ but not ‘overcrowded’, and that there is therefore little or no overcrowding across the prison estate. I hope I shall be proved to be wrong, but I fear that yet again our recommendation that prisoners should not be held in such conditions will be rejected.

The overcrowded conditions in which many prisoners were held were compounded by the fact that there was not enough for them to do, and too many were locked up for too long. During the inspection we found 44% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day, which is a very high figure for this type of prison. There were 285 prisoners who were unemployed, and who were therefore only going to be out of their cells for around four hours each day. To compound the problem, too many prisoners were allocated as wing workers, supposedly cleaning or carrying out similar work. However, there was far too little for them to do, and we saw many with nothing meaningful to do, with their cleaning equipment lying idle.

This dangerous combination of ready availability of drugs, lack of any meaningful way to pass the time and overcrowding will obviously give rise to tensions and frustration, particularly with such a young population. As such, it was hardly surprising that at times staff struggled to maintain control. We saw poor behaviour going unchallenged, and at times it was clearly difficult for staff to maintain appropriate professional boundaries and to assert their authority. However, reasonable access to basic kit, in-cell phones and kiosks for making applications, together with improved healthcare, acceptable food and good work to maintain contact with families, helped to mitigate what could otherwise have been very serious sources of frustration for prisoners.

Despite the many challenges facing the prison, it was reassuring to see the positive way in which the prison leadership responded promptly to some issues as they emerged during the course of the inspection. For instance, as is explained in the report, we raised concerns about some serious shortcomings in the arrangements that needed to be in place, but were not, to ensure that the public were protected from harm when prisoners were released or made contact with family members or others. This was particularly concerning in view of the substantial number of prisoners at Doncaster who were assessed as posing a high risk of harm to others. Despite these problems, there had been a great deal of good work done at Doncaster in the area of resettlement and planning for release, and our considered judgement was that, taken as a whole, the grade should increase to be reasonably good.

Overall, the findings of this inspection were broadly similar to those at the previous inspection in 2017. However, we were pleased to see that a major concern raised on that occasion had been addressed. In 2017 we reported that a large number of sex offenders had been moved to Doncaster in an effort to stabilise the prison, which had been going through a very challenging period. However, they had been moved into the jail without any provision having been made for their specific needs, such as accredited interventions or staff trained to address the risks presented by this particular group of prisoners. This issue has since been rectified and we hope that the serious concerns raised in this report will be similarly and promptly addressed.

Doncaster is a busy and complex prison with a transient population, many of whom pose significant risks to the public, to each other and, all too often, to themselves. The leadership and staff have worked extremely hard and their determination to succeed and generate a safe and decent environment is clear for all to see. Despite the problems we found during this inspection, there is good reason to hope that the establishment should be able to maintain and indeed improve its performance in the future

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
September 2019
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:

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