HMP Durham – progress needs to be speeded up

Too many services at HMP Durham were not good enough although there was some good practice, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the north east local jail.

HMP Durham holds around 1,000 adult and young adult male prisoners. The jail dates back nearly 200 years, holding people in an aged infrastructure where virtually every cell is holding more people than it should. In addition, the prison has been subject to a competitive tendering process and is currently undertaking management reorganisations and benchmarking exercises. Durham has seen a lot of change and some progress but progress remains too slow.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • prisoner perceptions concerning their own safety seemed to be improving;
  • the prison had begun to tackle drug supply and reduction, while clinical treatment and support for those with drug problems had improved significantly;
  • most prisoners indicated that they felt well treated by segregation staff and inspectors noted the way segregation staff were supporting a man in isolation who had contagious TB but was refusing treatment;
  • the prison had recently opened a new health facility and mental health provision was excellent;
  • the provision of learning and skills activity was a strength and achievements of qualifications in education and vocational training were high;
  • support for resettlement needs was generally good, including some effective work to support prisoners in need of accommodation; and
  • contact and engagement by offender supervisors with prisoners before sentence planning was variable, but better than inspectors often see.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • arrangements to promote safety were not good enough: risk management, assessment and induction arrangements all needed to improve;
  • since its last inspection in 2011, four prisoners had taken their own lives and work to support those in self-harm crisis was weak, although incidents of self-harm seemed to be falling;
  • incidents of violence and anti-social behaviour were higher than expected and monitoring needed to be better;
  • mandatory drug testing suggested illicit drug usage was high and almost twice what would be expected in similar prisons;
  • problems associated with young adults, who were disproportionately represented in both the use of force and segregation, required better understanding by the prison; and
  • relationships between staff and prisoners were lacking and less than two-thirds of prisoners felt respected by staff.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Durham produces some reasonable and, at times, very good outcomes for prisoners. It is unusual that in an old Victorian local prison it is the quality of work activity and learning that is one of the prison’s best features. Resettlement services are also reasonably good. Durham, however, could be a better prison than it currently is. Many services, notably those run by operational staff, were not good enough. The prison has experienced some significant distractions in recent times but these should not be allowed to become excuses. Progress needs to be speeded up.”

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

“Durham has been implementing major changes in working arrangements and has improved its performance whilst significantly reducing cost to the taxpayer. There is more to do – but the Governor and his staff deserve credit for the progress made in challenging circumstances. We will use the recommendations in this report to achieve further improvements over the next 12 months.”

Notes to Editors:

1. Read 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 2-13 December 2013.
4. HMP Durham is a category B local establishment for adult and young adult male prisoners.
5. Please contact Jane Parsons in HMI Prisons Press Office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.