HMP Bristol – further decline, but early signs of progress

Staff shortages and a lack of investment at HMP Bristol had led to further decline, but there were signs that it was now starting to move in the right direction, said Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local jail.

HMP Bristol, a mixture of Victorian and 20th century buildings, was holding 543 men at the time of the inspection. The previous inspection in 2014 found that some progress had been made after serious concerns were raised by an inspection in 2013, but that further improvement was required. This latest inspection found that standards had declined and the prison was now less safe than two years before, and the assessment for work, training and education had sunk to the lowest possible. Despite these findings, and the fact that many aspects of the treatment of and conditions for prisoners were totally unacceptable, there were some grounds for cautious optimism.

When surveyed, more than half the prisoners reported having problems with emotional well-being or mental health. Although 70% of the population were aged under 40, 62% of them were on some form of medication. Over 30% entered with a drug problem. A third of prisoners surveyed said that they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, which was double the figure in 2014 and much higher than at similar prisons.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • violence towards staff and between prisoners was very high, although levels had recently begun to fall;
  • there had been seven self-inflicted deaths since the 2014 inspection, with five in the past 12 months;
  • over half (53%) of prisoners said it was easy to get illicit drugs in the jail;
  • most residential wings were dirty and dilapidated and the infestation of cockroaches noted at the 2014 inspection was still present;
  • the regime for prisoners had been heavily restricted for much of the past two years, mainly due to the prison being understaffed;
  • the importance of work, training and education was not given a high enough priority across the prison and few prisoners attended;
  • at least 50% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the day; and
  • staff shortages had affected work to prepare prisoners for release, and offender supervisor contact with prisoners was limited because staff were drawn away to other duties.

Inspectors were, however, pleased to find that:

  • relationships between staff and prisoners were reasonably good and over two-thirds of prisoners said that staff treated them respectfully; and
  • much good work was done to support prisoners being released, but even with creditable efforts being made, a third were released homeless or to temporary accommodation.

Peter Clarke said:

“At HMP Bristol, it became very clear to us that many of the poor outcomes were directly related to chronic staff shortages and a history of underinvestment in the prison. This had coincided with a deluge of illicit drugs, fuelling violence, debt, self-harm and physical and mental illness among prisoners. The lack of staff and the poor physical environment on the wings had merely added to the problems. Despite these enormous challenges, there were grounds for thinking that improvement would soon be seen. More staff were due to arrive at Bristol, and there were plans to improve conditions in some of the units. In fact, there were credible plans for improvement in many areas of prison life and early indications that these plans were having an impact. Violence had reduced in the past few months and there were signs that new psychoactive substances were becoming less prevalent.

“However, if these and other improvements are to take hold, we believe it is essential that the energetic and committed leadership of HMP Bristol is allowed to build on the foundations it has laid. All too often, we see that changes in leadership have contributed to a lack of direction and a decline in performance. There is no reason why, with increases in staff, well-directed investment and consistent leadership, Bristol should not deliver better outcomes for prisoners in the future.”

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

“Performance at Bristol isn’t at an acceptable level and the Governor is taking robust action to tackle the problems.

“Funding has been increased and more staff, including an additional 29 prison officers, are being recruited.

“Work to improve safety, reduce violence and improve first night arrangements is being prioritised.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors:

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 25 July 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 Bristol is a category B local and resettlement prison holding male adults and young adults.
  4. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 6-17 March 2017.

Please contact Jane Parsons at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information