Blundeston Prison: 'Significant Concerns'

Prison inspectors say they still have significant concerns about the soon to close HMP Blundeston in Suffolk.

It was safer and there was more for prisoners to do, but bullying was an issue and health care was poor, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the Suffolk training prison.

HMP Blundeston was last inspected in 2011 when inspectors found the prison was going backwards. This inspection found that the decline had been halted and in most areas outcomes for prisoners were improving. However, in some significant areas, largely outside the prison’s direct control, outcomes were not acceptable. A week ago, the government announced that HMP Blundeston would close, possibly by the end of the year.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • Most prisoners said they felt safe and the small number at risk of suicide or self-harm were well cared for;
  • Reception, discipline and security processes usually worked well;
  • Efforts to reduce the supply of drugs into the prison and reduce demand were generally good and prisoners were commendably encouraged into abstinence-based recovery;
  • Staff-prisoner relationships were good, which offset some of the frustrations with poor standards of accommodation and health care;
  • Prisoners had confidence in the complaints system;
  • There was enough activity for 80% of the population and those prisoners had good amounts of time out of their cell;
  • Activities were of a good quality and equipped prisoners well for gaining employment after release;
  • Practical resettlement support was good, particularly to help prisoners find a job or training place on release; and
  • Public protection arrangements were good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • The level of reported bullying incidents was double what was usually seen at comparable prisons, much of it caused by canteen debt and divertible medicines;
  • Support for victims was poor and too many were placed in segregation and then transferred without the underlying issues being addressed;
  • The quality of some accommodation was poor;
  • Many prisoners were in cells with night sanitation, which involved joining an electronic queuing system to be let out of their cells to use the toilet;
  • The health care provided by East Coast Community Health Care was very poor and prisoners’ health was seriously compromised, Although HMI Prisons and CQC inspectors found some improvements when they made an unannounced return visit;
  • Large numbers of prisoners were prescribed opiates and other divertible medicines in possession, often in the absence of a clear clinical rationale or risk assessment; and
  • Support for prisoners with lifelong conditions was poor and almost no primary mental health care was available despite a high level of need.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Overall, HMP Blundeston had made good progress since the last inspection. It was a safer place, staff-prisoner relationships had improved and practical resettlement services were better. Further improvements are still required and some of these the prison itself needs to address. It can and should do more to address the causes of bullying and support victims, and its offender management needs to be strengthened. However, the night sanitation arrangements and poor health care are largely outside its direct control. The National Offender Management Service and health care commissioner need to work closely with the prison to resolve or at least mitigate these concerns.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:
“This report highlights the hard work and commitment that has been put in from staff to improve the conditions at HMP Blundeston, despite the poor state of much of the accommodation.
“The decision to close the prison is part of our wider strategy to modernise the estate and is not a reflection of the excellent work undertaken by staff.
“We will continue to ensure Blundeston operates safely and securely in the run up to its closure.”

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