HMP Pentonville – some progress, but levels of violence too high

HMP Pentonville had made some progress but was still not safe enough, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an announced inspection of the local London jail.

HMP Pentonville, an overcrowded Victorian prison serving courts in North London, holds over 1,200 adult and young adult men. The population is complex and demanding. Just over half are sentenced for serious violent or drug-related offences. Gang behaviour is pervasive and brings significant challenges for stability and good order. Around a quarter of the population are foreign nationals. During the inspection, health inspectors discovered that one in five men was taking anti-psychotic drugs, which has significant implications for all staff dealing with their care and management. In 2016, 111 patients had been transferred or listed for transfer to a secure mental health unit, the largest number of psychiatric transfers inspectors have ever seen.

Two previous Pentonville inspections highlighted increasing concerns about poor outcomes for prisoners and, in February 2015, inspectors gave the lowest score for three out of four healthy prison tests. As a consequence, this more recent inspection was announced to give prison staff the opportunity to address the main concerns. Recent findings were encouraging in some ways, with efforts made to address previous criticisms, but inspectors continue to have concerns, particularly about safety. Levels of violence remained too high and some of it was serious, including a homicide in late 2016.

Inspectors were also concerned to find that:

  • there had been five self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection in 2015 and frailties in the care for those at risk of suicide or self-harm were evident;
  • governance, reporting and quality assurance of security, adjudications and use of force needed attention to provide reassurance that poor behaviour was being identified, well managed and dealt with fairly;
  • the prison did not fully understand the needs of foreign national prisoners and what they could do to support them better; and
  • the provision of learning and skills needed to develop still further, using data to drive improvements, including looking at those who started courses but didn’t complete them.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • there had been some proactive measures to address levels of disorder, and there were signs that this was having a positive impact;
  • work to limit the supply of drugs, and support for men with substance misuse problems, was well developed;
  • real efforts had been made to make the prison cleaner and to enable men to live decent lives;
  • staff-prisoner relationships had improved, although management needed to maintain focus on this;
  • the daily routine (regime) was more predictable and the number of work, training and education places had increased significantly; and
  • work to resettle prisoners back into the community had improved, and help for men with accommodation problems and to maintain contact with their families was noteworthy.

Peter Clarke said:

“It is clear that Pentonville remains an immensely challenging prison, and that outcomes for prisoners remain, in many respects, not good enough. However, we were encouraged to see at this inspection a tangible sense of purpose and optimism among the governor and his senior management team, which were having a galvanising effect on the staff group as a whole. Leaders had a plan for where they wanted to take the prison, and had introduced a number of helpful initiatives with more planned. Nevertheless, the complexities of the prison mean that its leadership will continue to need significant external support from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) if Pentonville is to deliver acceptable and consistent outcomes for prisoners.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said:

“Pentonville has been through a very challenging period and I’m pleased that the Inspectorate have recognised progress has been made. The Governor and staff deserve credit for what has been achieved in difficult circumstances but as the report makes clear, there remains more to do.

“More prison officers are now being recruited for Pentonville and for prisons across the estate. With these additional resources in place Pentonville will be able to address the Inspectorate’s concerns and accelerate progress.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 14 June 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 Pentonville is a local resettlement prison for remand and convicted male prisoners aged 18 and over.
  4. This announced inspection was carried out from 9-13 January 2017.
  5.  Please contact Jane Parsons at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information.