HMP/YOI Isis – improving prison with many young men which must address violence and force

HMP/YOI Isis in south east London was assessed by inspectors as having become a more respectful prison over two years, with an encouraging change of culture under the current governor.

However, inspectors were concerned about high levels of violence at the prison. HMP Isis also, they found, needed “more rigorous scrutiny” of the use of force by staff.

Isis, which sits within the perimeter of the high-security Belmarsh jail, held 600 prisoners at the time of the inspection in July and August 2018. Nearly 70% of the population were under 30 and 22% were under 21 years old. Nearly half of those held were serving over four years.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the current governor took up post shortly after the “disappointing” 2016 inspection and she had “clearly prioritised getting the basics right, with visible leadership evident and a more positive culture beginning to emerge.” The governor believed a local recruitment campaign had enabled her to appoint officers more committed to the aims of her establishment.

As with other prisons holding significant numbers of young people, however, levels of violence at Isis had increased and were high. Prisoners aged under 25 accounted for about 70% of violent incidents, the report noted, and one in four prisoners said they felt unsafe. The prison, though, had introduced initiatives aimed at reducing violence and encouraging good behaviour.

One of inspectors’ most serious concerns was around the use of force by staff – which, Mr Clarke said, “we were not assured was always justified. We identified a need for more rigorous scrutiny of when and how force was applied…Some of the youngest prisoners are often the most vulnerable and yet they were disproportionately represented in the statistics relating to force and segregation.” The report noted: “Too many incidents were in response to non-compliance.”

Though inspectors noted positive interactions between prisoners and staff, the Inspectorate survey of prisoners “was very negative around two critical areas: only 48% of respondents said that most staff treated them with respect, and only 46% could say that they had not experienced any kind of victimisation by staff.”

Mr Clarke added: “Important recent steps had been taken by the senior team to deal with staff who contributed to the negative experiences of prisoners, but more work was needed to understand and address these negative perceptions. Our own observations and discussions with prisoners about staff, in contrast, were more positive. Indeed, we were encouraged by the energy and commitment of many staff.”

Living conditions had improved since 2016 and the food was particularly popular. The prison, however, was urged to strengthen its work on equality and diversity and to improve the poor levels of attendance and punctuality at training and education.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“Our assessments have remained largely unchanged since the last inspection, although this was not the whole story. We noted an encouraging change in direction since the appointment of the current governor and the culture and atmosphere in the prison were definitely improving. We left the prison confident that the senior managers and staff would use our report to effect further positive change, particularly in those areas which caused us most concern.”

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

“I’m pleased that Isis has achieved improved scores in two of the four healthy prison tests. This demonstrates real progress since the last inspection which is a credit to the Governor and her team. I am particularly encouraged that prison staff were recognised for their efforts in tackling gangs and encouraging good behaviour from prisoners, which are both key to reducing violence. There remains more to do but, as the Chief Inspector acknowledges, the prison is moving forward. The Governor will use the recommendations in this report to achieve further improvement over the next 12 months.”

 – End –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 18 December 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/YOI Isis in South East London was the first young adult and category C training prison for young men and adults in the London region. Constructed within the perimeter of HMP Belmarsh, it received its first prisoners on 26 July 2010. Young adult prisoners who turn 21 can remain to continue their sentence, if this in the interest of successful completion of their sentence plan and they are intending to resettle locally. Isis is the first whole-build public sector prison to be built in the last 20 years. In December 2016, the age cap of 18–30 was lifted, allowing prisoners of all ages to be transferred to Isis.
  4. This unannounced inspection took place between 23 July and 2 August 2018.
  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.