HM Chief Inspector of Prisons demands action from Secretary of State for Justice over “fundamentally unsafe” Nottingham prison

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has demanded that the Secretary of State for Justice intervenes to ensure urgent action to save lives and protect fearful prisoners in the “fundamentally unsafe” HMP Nottingham.

In the first use of a recently signed ‘Urgent Notification’ protocol, Peter Clarke put the new Secretary of State, David Gauke, publicly on notice that Nottingham jail requires immediate action. The protocol, signed by his predecessor David Lidington, gives Mr Gauke 28 days to respond in public.

Inspectors visited HMP Nottingham on 8 January – the third inspection in little over three years. The last two inspections have been announced – two of only a handful where the prison is warned in advance. Despite this, inspectors found serious failures in safety which were repeated from the earlier inspections.

Between the 2016 and 2018 inspections, levels of self-harm had risen “very significantly” and eight prisoners were believed to have taken their own lives (with some cases still subject to a coroner’s inquest). Over two-thirds of men said they had felt unsafe in the prison at some time, and more than a third felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. There were high levels of drugs, violence and assaults and use of force by staff.

In a letter to Mr Gauke on 17 January, made public today under the Urgent Notification protocol (and attached with additional debriefing notes from the inspection), Mr Clarke said: “Inspection findings at HMP Nottingham tell a story of dramatic decline since 2010.”

Inspections in 2014, 2016 and 2018 found safety to be “poor”, the lowest HMI Prisons grading. Only one other prison has received similar gradings and it would almost certainly have been the subject of an Urgent Notification, had the protocol been in force at the time.

Mr Clarke wrote: “The principal reason I have decided to issue an Urgent Notification…is because for the third time in a row HMI Prisons has found the prison to be fundamentally unsafe.

“Irrefutable evidence of the failure to respond to HMI Prisons’ inspection findings at Nottingham can be seen not only in the gradings given as a result of the latest inspection, but also in the progress made in implementing previous recommendations.” Only two of 13 “crucial” recommendations on safety made in 2016 were fully achieved.

Mr Clarke added: “As the last two inspections have been announced in advance, to give the prison the opportunity to focus on the areas where improvement was urgently needed…it is extraordinary that there has not been a more robust response. An action plan was drawn up to guide the implementation of recommendations, but has obviously not received consistent focused attention nor close monitoring from HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) senior leadership.

“It appears that the problems at Nottingham are intractable and that staff there are unable to improve safety despite the fact that this failing increases the vulnerability both of those who are held in the prison and of those who work there.”

Aside from safety, Nottingham was assessed as “not sufficiently good” – the second lowest grade – for respect, purposeful activity for prisoners and resettlement work.

HMP Nottingham did not suffer from staff shortages, Mr Clarke noted, and a “very successful” recent recruitment campaign presented an opportunity for improvement. “However, more than half the staff had less than one year’s experience and this clearly showed in their dealings with prisoners.

“Work was being done to support staff but it was not yet embedded or effecting sufficient improvement. This lack of experience extended to managers, some of whom were temporarily promoted and new to Nottingham. However, the leadership team was enthusiastic, committed and well intentioned.”

Mr Clarke concluded: “HMI Prisons has a clear view that a lack of continuity amongst governors at Nottingham in recent years has not been beneficial, and that yet more change at senior level is not the answer to lifting the prison out of its current dangerous state. It seems to us that managers and staff at Nottingham are doing their best but need urgent support from HMPPS to build up competence, capability and resilience.

“It would be a mistake simply to rely on the fact that there are now more staff at HMP Nottingham to deliver improvement. There needs to be an unwavering focus on making the prison safe and insisting that basic procedures that enhance safety for prisoners and staff alike are followed. If this does not happen, further tragedies and unacceptably high levels of violence will continue to blight HMP Nottingham.”

Ends  –

Notes to editors

  1. Mr Clarke’s Urgent Notification letter to Mr Gauke, and accompanying notes, can be found here. (378 kB)
  2. On 30 November 2017, Mr Clarke and Mr Lidington signed the Urgent Notification protocol – an extension of the existing working protocol between HMI Prisons and the Ministry of Justice. Mr Clarke said at the time: “The Secretary of State has accepted that he and his successors will be held publicly accountable for delivering an urgent, robust and effective response when HMI Prisons assesses that treatment or conditions in a jail raise such significant concerns that urgent action is required. The protocol requires the Secretary of State to respond to an urgent notification letter from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons within 28 days. The Chief Inspector’s notification and the Secretary of State’s response will both be published.”
  3. The most recent inspection of HMP Nottingham began in December 2017 with a visit by researchers conducting a survey of prisoners on a range of issues. Inspectors went into the jail between 8-12 January 2018.
  4. The vast majority of HMIP inspection visits are unannounced. The 2016 and 2017/18 inspections of HMP Nottingham were announced.
  5. The debriefing notes accompanying the Urgent Notification letter to the Secretary of State are closely based on the initial HMI Prisons findings shared with the Governor of HMP Nottingham at the end of the inspection in January 2018. As is the case with all HMI Prisons inspections, these early findings are indicative and may be changed at the discretion of the Chief Inspector, after due consideration or following the emergence of new evidence (all HMI Prisons evidence and conclusions are subject to a rigorous fact-checking process). However, it was the view of the Chief Inspector that the initial findings at HMP Nottingham were clear and concerning enough to warrant his decision to invoke the Urgent Notification protocol.
  6. A full report on HMP Nottingham will be published in due course, around 18 weeks after the end of the inspection.
  7. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at if you would like more information.