Inspection report highlights safety issues at prison

Prisoners feel less safe at HMP Northumberland than other comparable prisons while recorded assaults were high and work to confront bullying and violence lacked rigour, a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons has revealed.

Although the fact that the facility near Acklington had gone through a major change has been recognised, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said it lacked a clear sense of purpose and needed to improve safety and provide more work, training and education for prisoners.

In late 2013, the establishment was taken over by private-sector provider Sodexo and it was concluding the transition process at the time of the unannounced inspection (September 2014).

In their report, the inspectors said they were concerned that recorded assaults were high and work to confront bullying and violence lacked rigour, too many prisoners felt it was easy to obtain illicit drugs or alcohol and about a third of the population were locked in their cell during the working day.

However, they added that the relatively low number of prisoners at risk of self-harm were well cared for, the quality of healthcare and learning facilities were good and most prisoners felt staff treated them with respect.

Mr Hardwick said: “Overall, this is a fairly critical report. Safety outcomes have worsened and in most other respects it would be true to say the prison has yet to start improving.”

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “Our key focus remains on improving safety in the prison, which is a priority, and on continuing to provide more work for prisoners as part of the overall rehabilitation process.

“Our track record in our other prisons shows that we continuously improve our performance and positive safety records.”