HMIP Inspections of Isis

The prison was given an inspection in the summer of 2014, 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:

“Isis is a modern category C training prison in south east London, built within the wall line of the high security Belmarsh prison. At the time of our inspection it held just over 600 convicted men, nearly all of whom were under the age of 30 and a significant number under 21. Of these about two-thirds were serving sentences of over two years with just under 40% of the total population serving between four and 10 years.

This was our third inspection of Isis. When we last inspected in 2014, we found a new prison that was making some limited progress, but one where outcomes for prisoners needed to improve in almost all the areas we inspected. This inspection suggested very little progress had been made since then and we evidenced clear deterioration. Across all of our tests of a healthy prison we judged that outcomes remained insufficient, and we found that purposeful activity in this training prison was now poor.

In late 2013 the prison had introduced a restricted emergency regime in response to staff shortages. In 2014 we were critical of the fact that what should have been a temporary arrangement was still in place. At this inspection we found that the restricted regime was again still in place, a situation that had hardly changed over the last three years. The consequences were very clear. Opportunity to access the regime was severely limited, and we found between 34% and 44% of prisoners locked in their cells during the working day. Some prisoners had as little as one hour a day out of cell. In our survey only 24% of prisoners said they could shower daily; at comparator prisons the figure is 94%. The two house blocks that made up the prison shared access to work and education facilities. This meant that at any one time only up to half of the young prisoners held at Isis were doing anything useful. As a training prison Isis was completely failing in its central purpose.

When prisoners did access education, training and work, provision was failing to fully meet need. Our colleagues in Ofsted judged that the learning and skills and work activities at Isis required improvement in all four of their assessments. There were insufficient work and vocational training places, the quality of teaching and learning needed to be better, and fewer prisoners as a proportion of the population now engaged in education. Those who did engage generally achieved accreditations and qualifications, and there were aspects of the overall provision that were better, but achievements in the important subjects of mathematics and English again required improvement.

Another area of significant concern was the safety of prisoners. Arrangements to receive prisoners were not good enough and this set the tone. Only half of prisoners felt they were treated well in reception, many spent hours being processed and few felt that they were helped. Too many prisoners did not feel safe on their first night and arrangements on the first night wing were too perfunctory, particularly the assessment and management of risk. Induction was poor.

In our survey more prisoners than in comparator prisons suggested they felt unsafe at Isis and levels of violence were high. Initiatives were in place to reduce violence but most were limited in effect. Nothing had been done to address the frustration and boredom resulting from such a limited regime; the prison had failed to recognise the impact of this on the attitude and behaviour of the 600 young men held. This issue also potentially affected those at risk of self-harm, and we observed some vulnerable prisoners isolated in their cells for long periods. The number of self-harm incidents had risen since our last inspection, but for those at risk the quality of case management support was reasonable.

Security in the prison was well managed and proportionate with good work being done to disrupt drug supplies, despite the lack of a joined up strategy. There was evidence of an emergent new psychoactive substances (NPS) challenge, but unlike other prisons we have seen, Isis did not feel overwhelmed. Its location within the Belmarsh site made throwing drugs over the perimeter very difficult, and this provided yet more evidence of the need for effective perimeter security as a prerequisite in confronting the supply of NPS. The profile of the prison’s population meant the issue of gang affiliation was concerning, but good joint working with partner agencies and the police was helping to address risks.

The prison had seen significant increase in the use of force since our last inspection but arrangements in place to supervise and account for its use were good. The segregation unit was spacious and not overused but, despite good relationships between staff and prisoners, the regime in segregation and effective care and reintegration planning were both limited.

Although a modern prison, environmental conditions on the wings and in the cells were unacceptably poor and a significant indictment of the way staff were managing their responsibilities. Many wings were dirty, cells were poorly equipped and many prisoners struggled to access clean kit, showers and other basics of daily living. The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners were not good enough and we observed too many staff, particularly those on the wings, with low expectations and dismissive attitudes. The approach of some staff was characterised by passivity and indifference, often, for example, failing to challenge poor behaviour among prisoners. It was our view that tensions were made worse by the limitations and frustrations of the regime, but a better grip of staff culture and improved professionalism among the staff group was a priority that needed to be addressed.

The promotion of equality was poor despite the diversity of the population. The prison did not follow its own policies and we were not assured that those with protected characteristics were even correctly identified. Work to support individual minority groups was limited and perceptions among minorities were worse than in comparator groups. The provision of health care was, in contrast, generally very good and prisoners clearly appreciated the quality of food provided.

There was evidence that the prison was working towards the better integration of its offender management work and resettlement services as provided by the community rehabilitation company (CRC), but despite the significant number of higher risk offenders the quality of offender management work was, at best, inconsistent. Too many prisoners arrived without an assessment of their risk factors and sentence planning was too variable. Work to support reintegration and resettlement was generally good with, for example, a decent number of prisoners released to work or further training. However, access to visits and the delivery of offending behaviour interventions needed to improve.

Overall this is a disappointing report. Not enough progress had been made at Isis and the failure to attend to the delivery of some basic services, notwithstanding the evident challenges, was very poor. At the time of our inspection, the prison was awaiting the arrival of a new Governor. This provided the opportunity for positive change, and renewed attention to the delivery of the basics seemed to us to be a clear priority. Isis needed to rediscover its sense of purpose as a training prison, to urgently stabilise the routine and fully engage prisoners. The new Governor needed, in our view, to re-energise the staff group. We have provided a series of recommendations which we hope will assist that process.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

August 2016

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)