High levels of violence by inmates and low staffing levels have been revealed in a damning report which has labelled Doncaster Prison ‘inadequate.’
HMP Doncaster, which is managed by Serco, was deemed inadequate by HM Inspectorate of Prison chiefs when they visited in October last year.
In the six months before the inspection there had been 365 assaults at the prison, Marshgate.
One of the incidents involved a gang of men attacking a single victim. In February 2015 a man died as a result of an assault, prompting a murder inquiry.
Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “We saw some very good people during our inspection, however, this report describes a very poor prison.
“The relative competence of the resettlement providers did not compensate for the inadequate standards. The lack of staff was a critical problem. The prison cannot be allowed to get any worse.”
During the inspection, it was found that some problems which had been previously highlighted in March 2014 and not been addressed or had even worsened. However, the appointment of a new director had led to some improvements.
Despite efforts to understand what led to violence, inspectors found that initiatives to address the issue were ineffective and investigations were weak.
Eleven inmates died in the 18 months leading up to the inspection, including three who had taken their own lives. Hostage incidents had taken place and drugs were found to be widely available, although clean bedding was hard to find.
However, inspectors also said the quality of offender management was better than usual in local prisons and staff were doing their best, though the lack of numbers caused concern.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Today’s report emphasises how misleading it is to blame the prison system’s failings on Victorian jails. If old buildings were the problem, we would be tearing down Oxbridge.
“Doncaster is a big, new, private prison, opened in 1994, but it is already infested with vermin and has fallen into disrepair. Prisons with too many prisoners and too few staff will fail, no matter how old they are.”
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said they would work with the prison until all the concerns had been addressed.
He said: “This is a disappointing report which reflects the considerable challenges Doncaster is currently facing.
“There have been a number of improvements since the time of the inspection, including an increase in the number of staff and the refurbishment of the prison accommodation.”
Inspectors said Doncaster received new prisoners from the streets, with many pressing risks and needs, but its initial risk assessment remained inadequate and early days procedures did not focus sufficiently on prisoner safety.
Staff on the wings were overwhelmed and the report said there were too few officers and they did not have enough support.
It added security, derived from good relationships and interactions, was weak.
It also revealed that in the preceding few months there had been numerous acts of indiscipline, including barricades, hostage incidents and incidents at height.
Drugs were widely available, and many prisoners told inspectors that new psychoactive substances were a major problem.
The report warned not enough was done to encourage good behaviour; use of force and the special cell were high and increasing, but governance and supervision were inadequate.
Environmental conditions throughout the prison were described as very poor, with filth, graffiti, missing windows and inadequate furniture in many cells.
Health care provision had deteriorated; and time out of cell for prisoners was erratic and poorly managed
However, inspectors were pleased to find that there were many good staff trying to do their best, although professional boundaries were not well managed and there was a lack of challenge to poor behaviour.
And they said there were early signs of improvement in the promotion of equality and the work with the six per cent of the population who were foreign nationals was described as better than inspectors usually see.
For those who attended education, the quality of teaching and instruction was generally good, as were standards of work and the level of achievement by prisoners; and the quality of offender management was better than usual in local prisons and the delivery of resettlement services was generally good.
Julia Rogers, Serco’s managing director for justice, defended the jail.
She said: “At the time of this inspection in October, we were already four months into a formal rectification programme with considerable help from our customer, which involved the appointment of a new Director and management team; a reduction in the Operational Capacity of the prison; a top-to-bottom redecoration of the accommodation; a significant increase in staff numbers, and an intensive staff training programme.
“We acknowledge that conditions at the time of the inspection were unacceptable, but today the programme is now nearly complete and Doncaster is a very different prison to the one that was inspected six months ago.
“We are continuing to address the issues raised in this inspection and safety has improved, violence is gradually reducing and the houseblocks have been refurbished.
“Most importantly, the number of staff at the prison has increased by 38 per cent since October and we are no longer understaffed.”