HMP Leicester - significant challenges

HMP Leicester faced some significant challenges and had a lot to do to become an effective resettlement prison, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local jail.

HMP Leicester is a small, Victorian prison which at the time of its inspection held 387 men, 80% more than its certified normal accommodation. The high level of overcrowding, the age of the building and the high level of need of its population created real challenges. Few prisoners stayed at the prison for more than six months. The prison also had to adjust to some significant reductions in staffing levels. Despite this, an experienced and positive staff group was able to ensure the prison was reasonably safe, there was a good level of activity on offer and there was credible work underway to address most areas where improvement was needed.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • staff had a generally good knowledge of prisoners at risk of self-harm and demonstrated a good level of care;
  • use of force was managed well, with prolonged attempts at de-escalation;
  • staff in the segregation unit generally worked well with challenging prisoners;
  • support for prisoners with substance abuse problems was very good;
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were good, and this mitigated some of the effects of an old and overcrowded environment;
  • prisoners had more time out of their cells than some other local prisons, although it was still too limited;
  • learning, skills and work were well led and managed and most prisoners could access some part-time activity; and
  • the quality of teaching was good and the environment in classrooms and workshops was busy and purposeful.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • despite the prison’s efforts to tackle violence, more prisoners than in comparable prisons said they felt unsafe, recorded levels of violence were higher than in other local prisons, although much was low level, and there was evidence of drug and debt-related bullying;
  • more needed to be done to ensure that lessons from previous deaths in custody were embedded
  • a new health provider, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT) was in place, but further improvement was still needed;
  • a third of prisoners were on remand and arrangements for them to access legal advice and resettlement support were inadequate;
  • HMP Leicester had a lot of work to do to prepare for its new role as a resettlement prison, as offender management was poorly organised and there were weaknesses in public protection arrangements; and
  • practical resettlement support was inconsistent and little was done to address the attitudes and circumstances that lay behind many prisoners’ offending.

Nick Hardwick said:

“HMP Leicester had some significant weaknesses. Some, such as the high level of overcrowding, were outside its direct control. Others, such as the inconsistent application of some safety processes, the prison could and should have addressed. Some of these weaknesses were offset by good staff-prisoner relationships created by an experienced and positive staff group. Tangible improvements were being made in important areas such as health care. We saw no reason why the prison could not make the further improvements necessary to equip it for its new role as a resettlement prison – but there was a great deal still to do.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“I am pleased the Chief Inspector has recognised the improvements that have been made by Leicester despite the challenges faced from a complex and transient population and the Victorian infrastructure of the prison.

“The new Governor and his staff will use the recommendations in this report to support further improvement, as it develops into its role of a resettlement prison.”

Notes to editors

  1. Read the report.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 4-15 November 2013.
  4. HMP Leicester is a category B local prison for male adults.
  5. Please contact Barbara Buchanan at HMI Prisons on 020 3681 2772 if you would like more information or to request an interview.