HMP Belmarsh - a safer prison but more work to be done on purposeful activity

Read the report: HMP Belmarsh independent review of progress

Inspectors returning to HMP Belmarsh, the only reception prison in the high security estate, were encouraged to find that progress had been made since their last full inspection in July and August 2021. At the 2021 inspection, inspectors had been concerned to find high levels of violence, inadequate governance of the use of force, poor use of data, and severely limited time out of cell for prisoners, despite the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Inspectors returned to the London jail in April 2022 for an independent review of progress (IRP) and followed up 10 recommendations.

Commenting on the findings, Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“It was clear that leaders had taken the report of the inspection seriously and, in most areas, our findings were encouraging, with reasonable progress found against most recommendations.”

Levels of violence had reduced at the jail, which at the time of the IRP held approximately 660 prisoners. Inspectors were impressed with the innovative conflict resolution team, which identified potential sources of violence and effectively tracked incidents. Paperwork and footage were reviewed at weekly, well-attended use of force scrutiny team meetings. It was disappointing to see that despite this good work, body-worn cameras were still not being used routinely. Out of 132 use of force incidents, body-worn cameras had only recorded the event fully on 13 occasions.

Time out of cell was still inadequate at Belmarsh, but some progress had been made since last year. Most prisoners now received 45-60 minutes of outdoor exercise each day, as well as up to 1.5 hours of association time, although the latter was often cut to an hour due to staff shortages. It was frustrating that the prison could not provide full data on prisoners’ out-of-cell purposeful activity, making it hard for inspectors to properly assess the quality of provision. The gym and library had reopened, but the limited time out of cell meant that prisoners often had to choose whether to visit them or have association time.

Mr Taylor said:

“Overall, there had been encouraging progress towards meeting most of our recommendations, although there were a few exceptions, and in some areas the advances were recent and fragile.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP Belmarsh independent review of progress report, published on 27 May 2022.
  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 Belmarsh is a high-security prison in south-east London that held approximately 660 prisoners at the time of our inspection, most of whom were unsentenced. It is one of 13 long term and high security prisons, but the only reception prison in the high security estate. It also operates a high secure unit (HSU) for prisoners presenting the very highest risk of escape.
  4. Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) began in April 2019. They were developed because Ministers wanted an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning prison inspections. IRPs are not inspections and do not result in new judgements against our healthy prison tests. Rather they judge progress being made against the key recommendations made at the previous inspection. The visits are announced and happen eight to 12 months after the original inspection. They last two and a half days and involve a comparatively small team. Reports are published within 25 working days of the end of the visit. We conduct 15 to 20 IRPs each year. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons selects sites for IRPs based on previous healthy prison test assessments and a range of other factors.
  5. At this Belmarsh IRP we followed up 10 of the recommendations from our recent inspection and Ofsted followed up three themes. HM Inspectorate of Prisons judged that there was good progress in one recommendation, reasonable progress in seven, and no meaningful progress in two. Ofsted found reasonable progress in two themes and insufficient progress in one.
  6. A report on the most recent full inspection of HMP Belmarsh is available on our website, as is the accompanying media release.
  7. This IRP visit at HMP Belmarsh took place between 11 and 13 April 2022.
  8. Please contact Ed Owen at if you would like more information.