HMP Gartree – stability has deteriorated through staff shortages and challenges of changing population

The long-term stability at HMP Gartree – holding prisoners serving indeterminate sentences, most posing a high risk of harm – had deteriorated through staff shortages and difficulties in adapting to a changing population, prison inspectors found.

The category B prison in Leicestershire had previously specialised in the management of indeterminate-sentenced prisoners who were near their tariff expiry date – the point at which they were eligible to be considered for parole. However, according to the report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) on a November 2017 inspection, population pressures nationally in the prison system “had led to prisoners being sent to the prison much earlier in their sentence, often within the first couple of years.”

At the time of the unannounced 2017 inspection, half of the 704 men in Gartree were in the first few years of sentence and had more than 10 years left to their tariff date. More than 90% of men in Gartree were assessed as presenting a high or very high risk of harm to others.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said those in the early stages of their sentence “were not necessarily ready to complete offending behaviour work and faced the real prospect of many years at the prison before onward progression into the wider prison system. “Our last two inspections of Gartree, in 2010 and 2014, found a safe, stable and respectful establishment which managed its high-risk population well. At this inspection, we found that outcomes for prisoners had deteriorated…particularly in safety. The stability we have praised in the past had been undermined by staff shortages that seemed to impact on nearly all aspects of prison life; this was evidenced by managerial drift and by delays in fully coming to terms with the challenges posed by a changing population.”

Gartree was no longer safe enough. Almost a quarter of prisoners said they felt unsafe, up from 10% in 2014. Violence and victimisation had increased, with a significant increase in assaults on staff, some of them very serious. Almost half of prisoners thought that illicit drugs were easily available. Incidents of prisoners self-harming had risen dramatically, almost four-fold since 2014. Mr Clarke said: “Gartree holds some very challenging prisoners, often with complex mental health problems and long-term needs, and a large proportion of the self-harm incidents related to these men. However, there was no strategy which considered the particular difficulties confronting those serving indeterminate sentences to understand the causes of, and tackle, this dramatic rise in incidents.”

A total of 90% of men in Gartree were serving a life sentence, while others were serving an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP). Most on IPPs were over their tariff expiry date.

Gartree remained a reasonably respectful prison and inspectors saw some excellent and skilful management of very challenging and troubled prisoners. But staff shortages meant that prisoners spent far too much time locked up – 44% during the during the day – and this severely undermined work, training and education. The core responsibility of HMP Gartree was the management and progression of some very dangerous men but, Mr Clarke said, “many prisoners had too little contact with their offender supervisors and too little was done to motivate and encourage them to reduce their risk and progress.” However, public protection was a high priority and well managed. The few prisoners who were released received bespoke release planning.

Mr Clarke said:
“Gartree was a prison that was not as good as it could or should be. It had some difficult prisoners to manage but also had some significant advantages: a relatively stable population; long-term prisoners, among whom many would have a significant personal investment in the need to cooperate and progress; and a clear institutional function and purpose. It was clear to us that staff shortages had played a substantial part in Gartree’s deterioration, but that was not the whole story. There were evidently a number of processes that needed tightening but, more significantly, there was a need for renewed managerial and strategic focus to re-energise the prison, tackle some of the challenges and avoid a drift into complacency.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

“HMP Gartree will use the recommendations in this report to drive progress over the coming months. The prison now holds a more challenging mix of long-term prisoners compared with the previous inspection period. But, as the Inspectorate makes clear, security and public protection continue to be well managed. Staffing numbers are being increased to provide an improved regime with more training and activity opportunities for prisoners.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 14 March 2018, 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 Gartree is part of the long-term, high-security prison estate. It opened in 1966 as a category C prison, but was adapted in 1967 for use as a dispersal high security prison. In the early 1990s, it re-roled to a category B life-sentenced prisoner main centre, and now houses the largest group of life-sentenced prisoners in the UK.
  4. This unannounced inspection took place between 13-23 November 2017.
  5. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.