Severe drug problems and high levels of violence, with more than a quarter of prisoners feeling unsafe – these are the damning findings in a new study about life at HMP Northumberland.
The report says that there were six self-inflicted deaths in the prison in the last three years, but few of the shortcomings identified by investigations into those deaths had been addressed.
And there was a ‘clearly unacceptable’ failure to assess the risk posed to the public by many released prisoners.
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the leadership team had plans and strategies to tackle the problems, ‘but many had yet to achieve their desired effect.’
HMP Northumberland, privatised at the end of 2103, was inspected in the summer.
Inspectors found that violence had more than doubled since the previous inspection in 2014; 58 per cent had felt unsafe at some time, a significantly higher figure than at similar prisons and much higher than at the last inspection.
Mr Clarke said that it was also troubling that 28 per cent of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of this inspection, ‘a very high figure by any standards’.
He added: “One would have expected a detailed analysis of the violence, leading to a comprehensive violence-reduction plan. This was not what we found. There were plans for the future, but these had not yet come to fruition.”
The inspections also found that 61 per cent of prisoners said that it was easy or very easy to obtain illicit drugs in the jail, while 21 per cent said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the prison.
Inspectors were concerned that 59 per cent of prisoners covered by MAPPA (multi-agency public protection arrangements to assess risk and protect the public) were being released without confirmation of their MAPPA level.
“This was clearly unacceptable in terms of the risk this could potentially pose to the public,” Mr Clarke said.
There were also serious concerns about some aspects of medicines management.
Inspectors did find excellent work in a residential unit dedicated to older prisoners and it was obvious that the men valued the opportunity to be there among their peers, away from what they described as ‘the noise, violence and drugs.’
Activities for over 50s in a weekly club run by Age UK included carpet bowls, speakers, quizzes and table games.
Mr Clarke added that there is ‘a very clear determination on the part of the director and leadership of the prison to make improvements.’
A Sodexo spokesman said: “We have continued to implement the strategies and plans that we had initiated prior to the inspection and we immediately developed an additional action plan to address the issues raised in the inspection.
“We are pleased the report recognises the on-going commitment from the prison leadership to make improvements, that the majority of prisoners report positive interactions with staff and that prisoners are developing good work skills and high achievement rates in education and vocational training qualifications.
“We continue to work hard to tackle drugs and violence and have strengthened our violence-reduction team, introduced more drug testing and secured funding for additional CCTV equipment.
“We have improved our public-protection processes and are working more effectively with probation services.”
Responding to the report, Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “I am meeting the prison’s new director to discuss the progress I know he is making on the problems at HMP Northumberland.
“These are not new problems, I have been highlighting them for the last two years with the Minister and Sodexo.
“I hope that the new management team bring new commitment and energy to the challenge of improving the safety outcomes for prison officers and the prison population, alongside helping build the rehabilitation and training programmes which are vital to reducing re-offending.”
The prison is in the Druridge Bay ward of Coun Scott Dickinson. He said he was concerned about the safety of staff, as well as the levels of violence and availability of illicit drugs.
He added: “It is clear that privatisation does not work and prison contracts should be returned to Government.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform has also criticised the running of the prison.