HMP Guys Marsh – very disappointing

The most recent inspection of HMP Guys Marsh found failings in almost every area, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an announced inspection of the training and resettlement prison in Dorset.

HMP Guys Marsh holds a mixed population of approximately 550 convicted adult male prisoners. The full range of sentences was represented but many were serving longer sentences, including nearly 100 serving in excess of 10 years or indeterminate sentences. At its last inspection in 2014, inspectors described a prison in crisis where managers and staff had all but lost control. A new governor had been appointed since then. This more recent inspection was announced in the hope that awareness of an impending inspection would encourage improvement. Findings were very disappointing. Less than one-third of previous recommendations had been achieved. Inspectors acknowledge the challenges of Guys Marsh, including a relatively remote location and stretched staff resources. Many of those held were serious, challenging and in some cases organised offenders. That said, far too little had been done to address the concerns raised in the previous report.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the prison remained unsafe, levels of violence were high and rising and the number of assaults on staff had tripled since the 2014 inspection;
  • too much of the violence was serious and many prisoners were seeking sanctuary or self-isolating for their own protection;
  • much of the violence was directly linked to issues of debt among prisoners and the widespread availability of illegal drugs;
  • some 74% of prisoners said they thought illegal drugs were easily available and nearly a quarter indicated they had acquired a drug problem at the prison;
  • three prisoners had taken their own lives since the last inspection in 2014 and although levels of self-harm had not risen, they remained higher than at similar prisons;
  • many communal areas and much of the accommodation remained in a poor condition and prisoners expressed frustration at their lack of access to basic amenities such as bedding and kit;
  • staff did not always challenge prisoners’ poor behaviour or set effective boundaries on behaviour;
  • at any one time, around 30% of prisoners were not engaged in work, training or education, even though there were sufficient places; and
  • staff shortages undermined work to help offenders progress through their sentences and reduce the risks they posed, and despite a relatively high-risk population, about half of prisoners did not have a current risk assessment (OASys).

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most prisoners said they felt respected by staff and inspectors observed friendly if superficial engagement; and
  • time out of cell was reasonable for most and the management of learning and skills was improving, but too slowly.

Peter Clarke said:

“This inspection found failings in almost every area of the prison we looked at. We were advised that HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) had recognised some of the strategic problems the prison faced, particularly in relation to staffing numbers, with the promise of new resources a cause for some hope and renewed optimism. Any progress from the very low base we identified in 2015 had been very recent and was not well embedded. Some very careful thought needed to be given to how to move the prison forward. Improvement had to be based on a careful analysis and understanding of what was actually happening in the prison; an achievable plan which identified clear priorities and determined leadership focused on delivery were needed. This report provides an analysis and recommendations which we hope will assist in that process.”

Michael Spurr CEO of HMPPS said:

“Progress at Guys Marsh has been much slower than required reflecting the deep-seated challenges facing the prison.

“Additional staffing and resources to tackle the problems are being provided, including an extra 18 Prison Officer posts. A new, experienced Governor has taken charge at the prison. An improvement plan is in place and we will use the recommendations in this report to drive further progress over the coming months.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 11 April 2017, can be found here.
  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. HMP Guys Marsh is a category C training and resettlement prison for male adults. The resettlement catchment area encompasses Bristol, Wiltshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire.
  4. This announced inspection was carried out from 5-9 December 2016.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 07880 787452 or 020 3581 2775 if you would like more information.