High levels of violence, self-harm and drug use continue to plague a Staffordshire prison, according to a new report. During a series of unannounced visits to HMP Dovegate, inspectors found that alcohol and drug use was rife, and serious assaults were a regular occurrence. But the jail was also praised for its respectful staff, good living conditions and programmes to help offenders overcome addictions.
Alcohol and Spice ‘Too Readily Available’
- There had been one suicide since their previous inspection.
- Levels of self-harm were high.
- Alcohol and the former legal high, Spice, were easily available.
- The level of violence was “too high” – although it had dropped from a record-high in 2016.
- Use of force was high and “full restraint” was often required.
- Some inmates felt unsafe.
A Number of Difficult Years’
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “When we last inspected Dovegate in early 2015, we found an establishment that was in managerial transition and was in many respects struggling to maintain stability and ensure good outcomes for a challenging population of experienced and often violent offenders.
But Mr Clarke acknowledged that serious attempts to address the issues were being made and said he remained positive about the jail’s future. “Meaningful work was being undertaken to address weaknesses and some early successes were evident.”Michael Spurr, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said: “This inspection highlights good work being done at Dovegate but raises a number of serious concerns, particularly around safety, which need to be addressed.
Serco has developed a robust action plan to drive improvement, based on the Chief Inspector’s recommendations. We will closely monitor progress over the coming months.”Bosses at the prison said they were acting on the inspectors’ recommendations and have introduced a strategy to reduce violence through better education and disciplinary measures. Security has also been stepped up, with more dogs available and a dedicated search team tasked with finding contraband.
Any inmates caught with drugs will be placed on a 28-day ‘basic regime’ and ‘awareness course’. Segregation officers will now wear video cameras and hold monthly meetings to review use of force.“We know that there is much to do and as the report recognises, our team are working hard to address the complex challenges the prison faces, which are shared across the prison estate. We welcome the inspector’s recommendations and are reviewing and acting upon them as we continue to build on the progress we have made.”
‘Positive About Prison’s Future’
Serco contract director at HMP Dovegate John Hewitson said: “We are pleased that the inspector’s report concluded HMP Dovegate was well led and was positive about the prison’s future, finding prisoners felt respected by staff and living conditions were good.
“The prison was well led and staff seemed to be growing in confidence,” he added.
“At the time we expressed some optimism about the potential for progress and our hope that improvement could be achieved. Unfortunately, that optimism was misplaced and it would seem the prison has experienced a number of difficult years since.”