High levels of violence and drugs at prison

HMP Northumberland is once again in the spotlight after a damning inspection report.
HMP Northumberland is once again in the spotlight after a damning inspection report.

Severe drug problems and high levels of violence with more than a quarter of prisoners feeling unsafe – these are the damning findings in a new study about life at HMP Northumberland.

The HM Inspectorate of Prisons report makes for grim reading, but Sodexo Justice Services, which runs the Category C prison, says it is working hard to address the issues.

The report says that there were six self-inflicted deaths in the prison in the last three years, but few of the shortcomings identified by investigations into those deaths had been addressed.

And there was a ‘clearly unacceptable’ failure to assess the risk posed to the public by many released prisoners.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the leadership team had plans and strategies in place to tackle these and other problems, ‘but many had yet to achieve their desired effect’.

HMP Northumberland, privatised at the end of 2103, was inspected in the summer.

Inspectors were concerned to find that violence had more than doubled since the previous inspection in 2014; 58 per cent had felt unsafe at some time, a higher figure than at similar prisons and much higher than at the last inspection.

The inspection also found that 61 per cent of men said that it was easy or very easy to obtain illicit drugs in the jail, while 21 per cent said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the prison.

Inspectors were concerned that 59 per cent of prisoners covered by MAPPA (multi-agency public protection arrangements to assess risk and protect the public) were being released without confirmation of their MAPPA level.

But inspectors found some excellent work in a residential unit dedicated to older prisoners, with the men valuing the opportunity to be there among their peers.

Mr Clarke added that there is ‘a very clear determination on the part of the director and leadership of the prison to make improvements’.

A Sodexo spokesman said: “Following the inspection, we have continued to implement the strategies and plans that we had initiated prior to the inspection and we immediately developed an additional action plan to address the issues raised.

“We are pleased the report recognises the on-going commitment from the prison leadership to make improvements, that the majority of prisoners report positive interactions with staff and prisoners are developing good work skills and high achievement rates in education and vocational training qualifications.

“We continue to work hard to tackle drugs and violence. We have strengthened our violence-reduction team, introduced more drug testing and secured funding for additional CCTV equipment.

“We have improved our public-protection processes and are working more effectively with probation services.”

Responding to the report, Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “I am meeting the prison’s new director to discuss the progress I know he is making on the problems at HMP Northumberland.

“These are not new problems, I have been highlighting them for the last two years with the Minister and Sodexo.

“I hope that the new management team bring new commitment and energy to the challenge of improving the safety outcomes for prison officers and the prison population, alongside helping build the rehabilitation and training programmes which are vital to reducing re-offending.”

The prison is in the Druridge Bay ward of county councillor Scott Dickinson.

He said he was concerned about the safety of staff, as well as the levels of violence and availability of illicit drugs.

He added: “It is clear that privatisation does not work and prison contracts should be returned to Government.”

The Howard League for Penal Reform has also criticised the running of the prison.