HMP Dartmoor could continue to improve but only if staff and managers have much greater certainty about its future, according to the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick. He has just published his report following an unannounced inspection of the training jail in Devon.
HMP Dartmoor was established in 1809. Its isolated location and the age and dilapidated state of some of its buildings make it a very challenging establishment to run.
A few months before its inspection, ministers announced that negotiations would take place with the Duchy of Cornwall, which owns the prison, about its closure.
However, there is a notice period of 10 years and it is possible that the prison will continue to operate for years to come.
Inspectors say they were pleased to find that:·
- reception processes were efficient and welcoming
- care for men at risk of suicide or self-harm was reasonable
- the environment of the segregation unit had improved and relationships between staff and prisoners were good, although very little was done to address the behaviour of those held there
- good efforts had been made to improve the external environment
- good and improved relationships between staff and prisoners mitigated the worst effects of the poor physical conditions
- Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust, the new health care provider, had improved health services
- most men enjoyed good time out of their cells
- the education, training and work environment was impressive and the quality of what was provided was good
However, inspectors say they were concerned to find that:
- too many prisoners said they felt unsafe, levels of victimisation were high and sloppy processes meant that the prison was not adequately sighted on the true levels of violence
- safety was compromised by the too ready availability of prohibited drugs which included synthetic cannabinoids such as 'Spice', tradable prescribed drugs, injected drugs and illicitly brewed alcohol, or 'hooch'
- the new incentives and earned privileges scheme had been poorly implemented
- some cells were very small, some roofs leaked badly and some cells were damp
- too many men arrived without an up-to-date risk assessment or sentence plan, which compromised the progress they could make at Dartmoor
- following the closure of other prisons in the region, Dartmoor held a large population of sex offenders, a significant proportion of whom were judged to be in denial of their offence and there was no provision for them
- although practical resettlement support was generally effective, visits arrangements were inadequate and did not take sufficient account of the isolated location of the prison.