Report on an announced inspection of HMP Ford, 29 November – 3 December 2010.by HMCIP. Report compiled January 2011, published Thursday 31st March 2011
HMP Ford was failing in its resettlement role, and its security was undermined by poor staff-prisoner relationships. Our inspection took place one month before a major disturbance on New Year's Day 2011 caused considerable damage and raised significant public concern. This inspection report does not explain - and certainly does not excuse - the disturbance. It does, however, describe conditions in the prison one month before the disturbance took place.
"Open prisons have a crucial role in preparing low risk, particularly long-term prisoners for life back in the community. They do this by testing prisoners in low security conditions and gradually reintroducing them into society. Most open prisons perform this role effectively. Unfortunately, this was not the case at Ford. Instead, poor relationships were undermining the development of a strong positive culture, essential to responsible living and dynamic security. " Nick Hardwick, HMCIP
Inspectors had serious concerns.
- over 40% of prisoners said it was easy to obtain illegal drugs and staffing shortages meant many random drug tests could not be conducted within the necessary time scales;
- alcohol breath testing was unsophisticated, and alcohol finds were common, but not as prominent as at previous inspections.
Open prisons have fewer staff and depend much more than closed prisons on positive relationships or 'dynamic security' to run smoothly and safely. Inspectors were concerned that:
- dynamic security was undermined by poor staff-prisoner relationships;
- prisoners had little faith in formal mechanisms for resolving their concerns and some worried that if they made a complaint, they would be returned to closed conditions; and
- no black and minority ethnic prisoners, who comprised one-third of the population, were engaged in paid work outside the prison in the month prior to the inspection.
- black and minority ethnic prisoners appeared to have had less access to release on temporary licence for a sustained period
Prisoners who had served long sentences needed practical support - such as help with finding housing and a job - to help them prepare for the world outside prison and lead law-abiding lives. Inspectors were concerned that:
- prisoners' perceptions about resettlement were significantly worse than at other open prisons;
- prisoners were frustrated by poor communication about what was available and a lack of staff resources in the offender management unit which administered these processes; and
- short-term prisoners were also frustrated at the lack of resettlement support but they, unlike longer-term prisoners, had little investment in the regime.
Inspectors made their assessments in the context of the prison's purpose and role. HMP Ford is a Category D prison 'with an emphasis on resettlement'. Category D prisons are defined by the Prison Service as being for prisoners 'who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions'. Most prisoners at Ford were coming to the end of long sentences and preparing for release, although about 10% were serving short sentences. All were considered to be low risk.
HMP Ford was not without strengths but it was clear during the inspection that the trust on which the smooth running of the prison depended was in short supply, and the prison was failing to deliver its fundamental resettlement role effectively.
The prison was safe for most prisoners. Care for vulnerable prisoners who might be at risk of suicide or self-harm was a particular strength. Punishments were generally proportionate and the use of force was low. The segregation unit was rarely used.
Prisoners spoke very positively about the work of the chaplaincy. Health care was good.
Prisoners should be usefully occupied and it was good to see that at Ford there was enough work, training and education for the population. This had improved since our last inspection. Work was reasonably varied and, as well as contributing to the running of the prison, jobs ranged from producing poppies for the Royal British Legion to a horticulture department involved in the large-scale supply of plants to prisons, local authorities and the public, as well as produce for the prison's own kitchens. The prison workshops had good links with private sector employers. The quality of training was good. Achievement rates in literacy and numeracy had improved significantly since our last inspection. The library was well stocked and prisoners told us they valued the PE provision.
In our last inspection report, we noted that the smuggling in of alcohol, especially at night, had become a significant problem. Alcohol remained an issue but on this inspection we were more concerned about the availability of drugs. Prior to the inspection, the drug strategy had been in disarray. Over 40% of prisoners in our survey said it was easy to obtain illegal drugs. An average of almost one in eight prisoners had tested positive for drugs in random mandatory tests. There was a good rate of detection in suspicion drug testing, but staffing shortages meant that many tests could not be conducted within the necessary time scales.
Alcohol breath testing was unsophisticated. Disciplinary hearings had been carried out for 19 positive breath tests between May and October 2010 but we were surprised that no figures for the total number of tests conducted were available. In terms of actual finds, mobile phones and accessories were the items discovered most frequently, followed by drugs and drug paraphernalia. Alcohol finds were common but not as prominent as at previous inspections, although in recent months the number of security reports relating to alcohol had risen significantly.
The prison had made some positive efforts to improve security. The staff in the security department were committed and adaptable. As the name implies, an 'open' prison will never be completely secure: it is a low security facility for low-risk prisoners. Nevertheless, physical security had improved. The fence around the residential areas had been improved and continuous remote camera surveillance facilities enhanced. Joint working with the local police had also improved and the police had arrested and charged people committing offences in the prison grounds. Absconds had reduced but were still high. An average of 16 prisoners were returned to closed conditions each month.
However, open prisons have relatively small numbers of staff and depend much more than closed prisons on positive relationships or 'dynamic security' to run smoothly and safely. At Ford, we were concerned that this dynamic security was undermined by poor staff-prisoner relationships. Fewer than half the prisoners in our survey said that most staff treated them with respect against an open prison comparator of 77%. Prisoners raised this repeatedly with inspectors and, while we saw some good staff-prisoner interaction, our own observation bore out prisoners' concerns. Relationships were further weakened by the lack of an effective personal officer scheme.
Prisoners had little faith in formal mechanisms for resolving their concerns and told us the application process was slow and unfair. Some said they were concerned that if they made a complaint they risked being returned to closed conditions. Prisoner diversity consultative forums had been organised but no prisoners had attended. There were certainly issues to discuss: for example, black and minority ethnic prisoners appeared to have had less access to release on temporary licence for a sustained period and in the month prior to the inspection, no black or minority ethnic prisoners were engaged in paid work outside the prison, despite comprising a third of the population.
Overlaying all these concerns was prisoners' frustration about the poor resettlement provision. Prisoners' perceptions about resettlement at Ford were significantly worse than other open prisons. For prisoners who had served long sentences, processes like release on temporary licence were critical steps in preparing them for the eagerly anticipated, but sometimes bewildering, world outside prison and they needed a range of practical support - with getting a roof over their heads, some sort of job, rebuilding family relationships and so on - to prepare for law-abiding and useful lives after release. Prisoners were frustrated by poor communication about what was available and a lack of staff resources in the offender management unit (OMU) which administered these processes. The pressure on the OMU - and the prison as a whole - was exacerbated by the 10% of prisoners serving short sentences. Little was available for these prisoners and they too were frustrated but, unlike longer-term prisoners, they had little investment in the regime.
Open prisons have a crucial role in preparing low risk, particularly long-term, prisoners for life back in the community. They do this by testing prisoners in low security conditions and gradually reintroducing them into society. Most open prisons perform this role effectively. Unfortunately, this was not the case at Ford. Instead, poor relationships were undermining the development of a strong positive culture, essential to responsible living and dynamic security. Ford's resettlement and offender management are critical weaknesses for a prison that should be focused squarely on preparing prisoners for a return to the community. The practical resettlement needs of individual prisoners should shape the entire approach of this establishment, something that we have now had to repeat at too many inspections. There have been some recent improvements but this time there must be sustained progress supported at every level.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons