HMIP Reports, Portland

The prison was given an inspection in July/August 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 Portland is a category C closed facility holding up to 530 adult and young adult male prisoners. Originally built i n 1848, the prison i s in Dorset although those held generally came from a much wider catchment across southern England. The population profile as a whole was relatively young, with 25% age d under 21 and nearly 58% between 21 and 39. The vast majority of prisoners were serving more than 12 months, with nearly half serving between two and four y ears, and nearly a third serving longer than that.

When we last inspected Portland, in 2017, we expressed guarded optimism about t he prison’s future, despite finding some concerning outcomes. At the time, we found outcomes to be insufficiently good across three of o ur four tests of a healthy prison, and we rated safety as poor. At t his inspection we found that outcomes had not improved i n any of our tests and, of greatest concern, t he prison remained poor in safety.

Prisoners arriving at Portland were received reasonably well into the institution but induction was often delayed or cancelled. The early experience of many prisoners consisted of extended periods locked in cell. Levels of violence had reduced following a recent increase in 2018 but remained high and comparable to the levels we saw during our last inspection. Work by staff to tackle violence, as well as to challenge poor behaviour by prisoners, was not good enough. The situation was not helped by a failure to develop any kind of incentivising culture that might motivate prisoners to engage and behave. Consistent with the level of violence in the prison, use of force had increased markedly. While we found no evidence that force had been misused, supervision and accountability were insufficient.

In contrast, the number of adjudications and the use of segregation had decreased since 2017. Indeed, the use of segregation was lower than at similar prisons and lengths of stay were comparatively brief for most. Living conditions on the unit were better, although the regime was very limited. Some security arrangements were too restrictive but the prison used intelligence well and had done some very good work to reduce an influx of illegal drugs. Data from mandatory drug tests suggested a positive rate of just over 5%.

Levels of self-harm had doubled since our last inspection and were now very high. Case management (ACCTs) of men in crisis was generally poor and many experienced protracted periods of lock-up and isolation. The prison had no safeguarding policy.

Our observations suggested a reasonable quality of personal interaction between staff and prisoners but the paucity of the regime limited the ability of staff to engage consistently. Staff were too slow to challenge poor behaviour. It was no surprise that in our survey just 59% of prisoners thought staff treated them with respect. Cleanliness and the quality of the environment were little improved since our last inspection, with some cells in a poor condition and many overcrowded. Showers were in a particularly poor condition, although access to basic items had recently improved. Consultation with prisoners was weak, as was the management of the applications and complaints processes. The promotion of equality and diversity was similarly weak but there was evidence that, with the encouragement of the Prison Group Director’s office, improvements were beginning to be made. The prison provided reasonable health care but facilities were poor and prisoners had difficulty accessing the service.

The amount of time prisoners spent out of their cells was poor and reflected a limited and restricted regime prone to slippage and cancellations that ultimately undermined so much of the work of the establishment. A quarter of prisoners were not engaged in activity and could experience as little as one hour 15 minutes out of cell each day. During roll checks we found a shocking 44% of prisoners locked in cell during the working day. The curricula offered in education and vocational training opportunities were appropriate but there remained too few activity places. Those places that were available were underused, a situation compounded by continued poor punctuality and in some areas poor attendance, although generally attendance had improved since the last inspection. Those that did attend seemed motivated and made the progress expected of them. Teaching, learning and assessment were well planned and there were some improvements in prisoners’ achievements. Our colleagues in Ofsted assessed the overall effectiveness of provision as ‘requires improvement’.

The relative remoteness of Portland meant that promoting good family ties remained a challenge. The involvement of Barnardo’s in support of family days and through their encouragement of care leavers was, however, impressive. The prison had a good reducing reoffending strategy based on a useful needs analysis and since our last inspection the prison had reduced its backlog of offender assessments (OASys) by half. The quality of many assessments, however, was not good enough and contact between offenders and their supervisors was low and almost entirely reactive. Too few prisoners said they had a sentence plan, and offending behaviour opportunities and one-to-one interventions were too limited. Public protection work was, however, good and resettlement support for the approximately 40 prisoners released each month was reasonable despite most discharged prisoners returning to other parts of the country.

Overall, our findings at this inspection were troubling. Outcomes had not declined and there was some recent evidence that the impetus and initiative provided by the Prison Group Director was having some beneficial effect. This, however, was not enough. We had concerns about whether local managers had realistic, grounded plans to meet the challenges the prison faced. The prison’s approach to safety was lacklustre, basic standards were not maintained and staff generally needed to have greater expectations of the prisoners they supervised. The prison also needed to re- focus on its primary function as a training and resettlement prison and ensure first that it did the basics right. It urgently needed to ensure that an active and purposeful regime was being delivered and that this met fully the needs of the men held.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                             August 2019

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Portland

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

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