HMIP Reports, Portland

The prison was given an inspection in May 2017, 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:

“Portland is a category C prison located on Portland Bill, Dorset. It is an historic prison, originally built in 1848, housing around 500 adult and young adult male prisoners. The prison was last inspected in 2014, when it was judged to be fundamentally safe, but on this occasion there had been a marked decline in safety, which was now judged to be poor. This was a serious and disappointing judgement that was rooted in a number of findings.

In our survey, half of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some time, and one in four felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. The latter figure is double what it was in 2014. Levels of violence were very high, as was the level of self-harm – individual incidents of which were often serious. There did not appear to be a coordinated strategy to deal with the violence, and indeed there were significant failings in the response to it. In light of these levels of violence, it was not surprising that the use of force was higher than at comparable establishments. However, the governance of the use of force was unacceptably poor. Much paperwork connected with it was incomplete and not all planned interventions were filmed. Inexplicably, although body-worn cameras were available, they were not routinely used nor was their footage reviewed.

Just as the issue of violence required urgent management intervention, so too did there need to be a coherent strategy to reduce the supply of illicit drugs into the prison. 64% of prisoners surveyed told us it was easy to get drugs. Only one prison had returned a higher figure thanthat in the past year. Meanwhile, 20% said they had actually developed a drug problem since being in the prison. It was clear that the ready availability of drugs was contributing to the levels of debt, bullying and violence that were evident throughout the prison. Another symptom of the problem was the number of prisoners self-isolating across the jail.

In terms of the conditions in which prisoners were held, too many of the cells in the residential wings were in poor condition. Many of the double cells had unscreened lavatories that were extremely close to the beds in which men slept and ate their meals. Equally concerning was that some prisoners and staff had come to accept such conditions as normal. To my surprise, a senior member of staff showed me a double cell where a sheet had been used to screen the shower, with another fashioned into a makeshift curtain over the window, and told me in all seriousness that this was an example of a ‘good’ cell. The segregation unit was in poor condition, with cells damaged by previous occupants, sinks and lavatories ripped away and repairs taking too long to achieve.

However, despite the violence, drugs and poor living conditions, the relationships between staff and prisoners seemed generally good. We observed many positive interactions, and the workshops in particular were a good example of cooperative and collaborative relationships. risoners said that they felt as if they had left the confines of the prison while they were at activities. This was encouraging, but in other respects the balance had tipped too far towards acceptance of low-level poor behaviour. At the time of the inspection the smoking ban had been in place for a few weeks, but it was clear that it was being widely ignored,and that this was being tolerated by staff. More seriously, inspectors were also left with the very clear impression, and I was explicitly told by more than one prisoner, that staff were not intervening sufficiently to stop some of the violence and bullying on the wings.

For a category C prison, the prisoners were locked up for too much of the time. More than 30% of them were locked in their cells during the working day, restricting their access to many elements of the regime. There needed to be a thorough review with the intention of finding out what was achievable as opposed to what was convenient for the establishment.

There were many good things happening at Portland, but we were left with the clear view that there was a need for effective leadership to take Portland into the future and to shake off many of the vestiges of the past. A new governor was appointed a few weeks before the inspection, and he has the opportunity to ensure that each and every member of his management team is accountable for leading key areas of activity, and that standards are maintained in the services that give rise to frustration from prisoners when they are not efficiently or consistently delivered. Our survey gave clear indications of what these things were. Too much was delegated outside the governing team. The governor and his senior team now have an opportunity to seize the initiative and drive forward the improvements that are badly needed at Portland.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

July 2017

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: