HMIP Inspections of Isis

The prison was given an inspection in the summer of 2018, 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 Isis is a category C training prison in South East London which sits within the wall line of the high security Belmarsh prison. At the time of our inspection, Isis held just over 600 convicted prisoners. Almost 70% of the population were under 30 and 22% were under 21 years old. Nearly half of those held were serving over four years.

Our last inspection of Isis in 2016 was disappointing. At the time we recorded insufficient progress and a failure to attend to the delivery of some basic services. We were particularly critical of a restricted regime first put in place in 2013 which was still in operation when we inspected three years later. Restrictions persisted but, reassuringly, improvements had been made and the average number of prisoners locked up during the working day had reduced to 22% of the population compared to 40% last time. Prisoners also had better access to domestic activities and association time, which included evening association for those on the enhanced wing. The prison again talked about plans to introduce and improve the regime, although at this inspection the plans seemed more credible as staffing numbers had improved significantly.

The current governor took up post shortly after our last inspection and had clearly prioritised getting the basics right, with visible leadership evident and a more positive culture beginning to emerge. The prison had been authorised to conduct a local recruitment campaign to recruit prison officers, instead of relying on the usual national campaign which sometimes displaced people from their home areas and created long commutes. The governor believed that this local recruitment had enabled her to appoint a team of officers more committed to the aims of her establishment. The influx of new staff clearly brought its own challenges, with 80% of the staff group still in their first year of service, but the governor commendably saw this as a long-term opportunity for the prison and not a hindrance.

Similar to other prisons holding significant numbers of young people, levels of violence at HMP/YOI Isis had increased and were high. One in four prisoners in our survey reported feeling unsafe, but the senior team had introduced a number of initiatives aimed at reducing violence and encouraging good behaviour. The quality of investigations of violent incidents had improved significantly, systems to identify and deal with gang activity were well managed, and relationships with the local police were very good.

Additionally, the governor was clearly focused on tackling any potential staff corruption. New behaviour management processes designed to deal with the most complex individuals were promising, although it was a little too early to see their benefits. Concerted effort had been made to encourage good behaviour, including the introduction of an enhanced unit, peer support roles and opportunities for release on temporary licence (ROTL). All departments were working together to try to tackle drug misuse. It was vital that this commendable initiative and effort was sustained. Our survey of those held was very negative around two critical areas: only 48% of respondents said that most staff treated them with respect, and only 46% could say that they had not experienced any kind of victimisation by staff. Important recent steps had been taken by the senior team to deal with staff who contributed to the negative experiences of prisoners, but more work was needed to understand and address these negative perceptions. Our own observations and discussions with pris oners about staff, in contrast, were more positive. Indeed, we were encouraged by the energy and commitment of many staff we met. Most prisoners spoke about ‘good officers’ they could talk to if they needed help. Prison staff and managers had received hundreds of letters of thanks from prisoners they had helped through difficult times.

Living conditions had improved since our last inspection. Communal areas and most external areas were clean and well presented. Prisoners were encouraged to clean their cells and there was little graffiti and few offensive pictures on display. The governor and a team of her staff also hosted regular ‘think tank’ meetings with prisoners to discuss ways to improve conditions at the prison. However, our visit took place during the summer heat wave and inspectors were struck by the oppressive heat in some of the cells that had no curtains or fans to lower the temperature.

One of our most serious concerns was around the use of force, which we were not assured was always justified. We identified a need for more rigorous scrutiny of when and how force was applied. When there had been a failure to turn on body-worn cameras, de-escalate incidents, or complete important assurance paperwork, governance arrangements did not robustly challenge this. Some of the youngest prisoners are often the most vulnerable and yet they were disproportionately represented in the statistics relating to force and segregation.

We were disappointed that very little had been done to achieve the main recommendation made at the last inspection concerning the prison’s management of equality and diversity, and we have been compelled to make a similar main recommendation in this report. The diverse population at Isis demands more flexibility in the application of policy to ensure that difference is recognised and understood. We were particularly concerned about adverse outcomes for foreign national and young prisoners. The establishment needed to do more to understand the distinct needs of these groups on arrival at the prison and dedicate resources to ensuring that their needs were met. In the case of young prisoners, a greater understanding of the developmental needs of young people still going through the process of maturation was required.

Prisoners still did not spend enough time in education or training, and those on vocational courses often did not have time to gain accredited qualifications. Poor attendance and punctuality contributed significantly to Ofsted’s judgement that the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work required improvement. Prisoners were supported to build and maintain family ties, but a shortfall of offender assessment system (OASys) assessments impacted prisoners’ ability to progress through their sentence. Offender management and the quality of supervision were mixed and there were weaknesses in public protection arrangements. Support for care leavers and resettlement planning were, however, better.

Our assessments have remained largely unchanged since the last inspection, although this was not the whole story. We noted an encouraging change in direction since the appointment of the current governor and the culture and atmosphere in the prison were definitely improving. We left the prison confident that the senior managers and staff would use our report to effect further positive change, particularly in those areas which caused us most concern.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

September  2018

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Isis

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

  • HMP/YOI Isis (827.58 kB) , Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP/YOI Isis (3-13 May 2016)
  • HMP/YOI Isis, Unannounced inspection of HMP/YOI Isis (17 – 28 February 2014)
  • HMP/YOI Isis, Announced inspection of HMP/YOI Isis (12-16 September 2011)