Eight months in, are the Prison Minister’s promises holding up?
In August 2018 prisons minister Rory Stewart made a brave promise that 10 of the most challenging prisons would show a measured reduction in the number of drugs and amount of violence within a year. Ten million pounds was announced for reforms focused on safety and security of prisoners, including more sniffer dogs, detection machines, leadership training and building repairs.
One of these prisons is HMP Nottingham, is beginning to show results as reforms are implemented. In January 2018 HM Prison Nottingham evoked headlines declaring it “fundamentally unsafe” by prison inspectors. This came after two earlier damning inspections and caused Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons to write an Urgent Notification Protocol to the Minister of Justice, David Gauke.
HMP Nottingham is a category B prison for adult males and young male offenders. It is a local prison and takes offenders from the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire courts. This enables the prisoners to stay in contact with their families. Originally built in 1890 it has been totally rebuilt and repurposed with an operational capacity of 1060.
An inspection in January 2018, found the prison to be fundamentally unsafe, with 8 suicides between 2016 and the 2018, and at least three more death have occurred this year. Prisoners did not feel safe and there was a culture of violence fuelled by drug use that was prevalent throughout the prison. Nearly half of the prisoners have mental health needs and 20% are on opiate substitution. The report called the levels of suicide and self harm “tragic and appalling.”
So what has been done?
Reforms that began in January 2018 have been built on with plans for a mental health day care centre progressing in partnership with Nottinghamshire Healthcare. NHS England has confirmed it is investing £200,000 in mental healthcare workers at the prison.
Alongside this a review of first night procedures has been done, as this is when prisoners feel most vulnerable and are at greatest risk. The care-in-custody managers have undertaken training to ensure new prisoners feel safe and understand what is happening.
The prison has implemented a new violence management strategy and employed 4 substance misuse officers to tackle the prisons endemic drug use. To lead the work on drug misuse the prison has hired a dedicated head of substance abuse
Stopping drugs and contraband entering the prison in the first place is important and to help this there are at least four metal detecting wands and trace detection machines. These are especially useful for finding psychoactive drugs such as ‘spice’ that are a large part of the prison drug trade. Four new sniffer dogs and two handlers are now on site at the prison to aid detection of drugs and contraband.
The next six months
Of the £10 million, £6 million is to tackle drug supply with detection equipment and sniffer dogs, scanners and perimeter measures. £3 million will be used to upgrade living conditions and £1 million is to be dedicated to training prison officers and strengthening leadership. By the middle of next year the measures should be in place in all ten prisons, HMP Nottingham, Hull, Humberside, Leeds, Lindholme, Moorland, Wealstun, ranby and HMP Wormwoodscrubs.
The way forward for HMP Nottingham
The Prisons Minister hopes that these measure will enable these prisons to become models of excellence that can be rolled out across the wider estate and inform future investments.
Chicken and Egg
Critics of the plans say the measures do no more than clean up the bricks and mortar and add more nuts and bolts to the prisons. They do not tackle or reform any of the underlying social issues that can help reduce re offending and enable prisoners to lead a productive life. The Justice minister however, said that you underlying causes could not be tackled until the prisons were a safe and secure environment where prisoners felt safe to change. Sounds a bit like the chicken and egg cliché to me! How would you begin to effect prison reform?
Nottingham Prison Contact Details
The address is Perry Road, Sherwood, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire NG5 3AG, Tel: 0115 872 4000