HMP Peterborough male prison – slow progress in easing COVID-19 restrictions

Read the report: HMP Peterborough

HMP Peterborough, holding just over 850 male prisoners, was found by inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons to have taken a “very cautious” approach to easing COVID-19 restrictions.

This was despite the fact that there had been no positive tests among prisoners since the start of the restricted regime in March 2020, and the number of staff testing positive was low.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “Prison leaders had quickly established a structure to communicate information, design cohort arrangements and deliver a restricted regime. The prison was taking a very cautious route to recovery, which meant that some improvements had been slow to materialise.”

The report, published today, noted that many prisoners had only around 90 minutes a day out of cells. The published regime set out 30 minutes a day out of cell for prisoners to complete domestic tasks and to shower, with a further 45 minutes outside in the open air.

The report added: “Both prisoners and staff told us that on some wings these times were often curtailed further without credible explanation. Some prisoners told us that that long periods locked up with little to do had affected their well-being.”

Violence had reduced since the start of the restricted regime but, nevertheless, around one in four prisoners felt unsafe, and a notable number said they had been victimised. Inspectors were concerned to encounter a few prisoners who “clearly had some unmet needs.”

Mr Taylor said: “Living conditions were generally clean and tidy, although the limited time out of cell and some procedural problems meant some prisoners found it difficult to keep themselves or their cells clean. Prisoners were consulted about minor issues affecting their daily lives, but actions from consultation meetings were carried over from meeting to meeting and, in some cases, were not resolved.”

“Equality work had not been prioritised during much of the restricted regime, although it had started to gather some momentum recently. The quality of the prison’s engagement with prisoners from protected groups was basic and did not really explore the issues affecting them.” The 40-week waiting list for dental treatment required urgent attention.

Sodexo, the private operator, which also runs a women’s prison on the same site, employed education staff directly and they had remained on site throughout the restrictions, providing some education for around 130 prisoners, albeit mostly in cell.

The prison had retained a reduced library service through a book trolley, and PE instructors provided some circuit training on exercise yards, though neither were provided consistently as the relevant staff were often cross-deployed to other duties.

Rehabilitation and release planning had been a strength at the last full inspection, in 2018, and some elements of this work remained in place and had developed further. Two examples of notable positive practice identified by inspectors related to release work. Partnership working with Nacro had resulted in the purchase of accommodation in the city centre that prioritised prisoners leaving Peterborough, though a third of prisoners left with no settled accommodation.

Gaps in public protection work also created some risk, including the monitoring of calls by some dangerous prisoners.

Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“Leaders at Peterborough assured us that recovery plans to move into phase two of the national strategy were complete and would provide a much more purposeful regime. Given that the prison has remained mostly virus-free for eight months, we would encourage it to implement these plans as soon as it is safe to do so. This report contains several key concerns and recommendations that we hope will help it to prioritise its work as it enters this important next stage.”

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Notes to editors

1. Read the report: HMP Peterborough. This report was published on 6 January 2021.

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. Read about the development of scrutiny visits (SVs) in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. These are short inspections which, while not as exhaustive as our full inspections, are more in-depth than the short scrutiny visits used in the early months of the pandemic. They include the reintroduction of a prisoner survey.

4. HMP Peterborough is a Sodexo-run, category B local prison holding both men and women. The men’s and women’s jails are separated but are on the same site and share a management team. During this scrutiny visit, the prison held just over 850 male prisoners. The prison opened on 28 March 2005 with two residential units, House block 3 and House block 4, initially accommodating 480 prisoners. In January 2015 it opened an extension, House block 5, which provided an additional 292 prisoner places. This scrutiny visit related only to the male prison.

5. On pages 12-13 of the report you can find a summary of key concerns and recommendations, and two examples of notable positive practice identified by inspectors.

6. This scrutiny visit took place between 17 and 24–25 November 2020.

7. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.