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HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on HMP Peterhead


3. Custody and Good Order

Security and Safety

3.1 In 2004-05 there were no serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. In 2005-06 there were two. There were five minor prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in 2004-05 and ten in 2005-06. There had been one serious prisoner-on-staff assault in 2004-05 and none in 2005-06. There were three minor prisoner-on-staff assaults in 2004-05 and three in 2005-06.

3.2 In 2004-05 there were two deaths in custody (subject to FAI). In 2005-06 there were three and in 2006-07 to time of inspection there were two. In 2004-05 there were two attempted suicides. In 2005-06 there were none and in 2006-07 to time of inspection there were none. In 2004-05 ACT procedures were initiated on 13 occasions. In 2005-06 they were initiated on 14 occasions and on two occasions in 2006-07 to time of inspection.

3.3 None of the deaths in custody were attributed to suicide.

3.4 Overall, Peterhead is a safe prison with prisoners confirming that they felt safer there than they would in any other prison.

Custody and Order

3.5 The Unit Manager Operations and Business Improvement oversees the gate, visits, CCTV, physical security and intelligence management, as well as auditing the establishment's performance against the Contract with SPSHQ.

3.6 The prison is safe and secure, even though the buildings are old. Investment has been limited in the last 10 years, and while the future of the prison remains in doubt that is likely to remain the case.

3.7 Peterhead has benefited recently from improving its intelligence management system with the addition of an on-site police liaison officer. Because the prison holds sex offenders, the nature of the work undertaken by the Intelligence Unit differs from other establishments. Amongst other things, it has a crucial role in linking community intelligence with prison intelligence when a prisoner approaches liberation.

3.8 The Unit Manager Operations and Business Improvement uses the monthly management meeting to update other managers on issues. It is at this meeting that feedback is given on the prison's performance against the Contract with SPSHQ.

3.9 There is a very strong focus on audit in the prison. All managers are required to submit a self-audit of their areas of compliance each month and 10% of the compliance management system is independently checked. The access database used to connect all managers to the audit system is impressive.

3.10 Business Improvement and Custody & Order are well managed.

Prisoner Complaints Procedure

3.11 For the last three years Peterhead has had a far larger number of complaints from prisoners than any other prison in Scotland. This year it has been joined by Dumfries, following the transfer of a number of prisoners from Peterhead to Dumfries. More prisoner complaints were lodged in Dumfries and Peterhead than in all other Scottish prisons put together. In 2004-05 of all prisoner complaints received by the Scottish Prison Complaints Commission, 30% came from Peterhead. In 2005-06, 59% of all complaints submitted to SPCC came from Dumfries (37%) and Peterhead (22%) together.

3.12 An examination of a sample of the complaints made by Peterhead prisoners reveals that few are related to slopping-out, the one circumstance in which conditions in Peterhead are markedly worse than in other prisons. Indeed, of the sample seen, many are of a trivial nature; and nearly all are made by a very small number of prisoners. It is reasonable to conclude that the large number of complaints in Peterhead is not necessarily an indication that conditions and treatment are much worse than in other prisons.

3.13 Another explanation might be that it is much more difficult to make complaints in other prisons than it is in Peterhead and in Dumfries. However, there is little evidence that forms are difficult to find in other prisons; and there is little evidence from prisoners that they have been discouraged from making complaints. There is a culture of complaining in Peterhead and in Dumfries which is not found in any other prison.

3.14 Examination of the records in Peterhead shows that complaints are dealt with timeously and properly. However, there is a high price to be paid for that. The price is in the very considerable time taken up by prison staff responding to complaints: time which is not being spent in other ways. This inevitably means that the large majority of prisoners are disadvantaged. Moreover there is anecdotal evidence that some prisoners in Peterhead will not make use of the complaints system because they do not want to be associated with the persistent complainers.

3.15 The opportunity for prisoners to make complaints and have them investigated is extremely important. But prisoners are not helped when the opportunity is abused. It is recommended that a way of restricting persistent and trivial complaints, without inhibiting the right of prisoners to make complains is found.

Prisoner Disciplinary System

3.16 Peterhead generally has few breaches of discipline: an average of eight reports per month in 2005-06, ranging from a monthly low of four to a high of 21. In 10 out of the 12 months the number of reports was in single figures.

3.17 The disciplinary system is managed by the Intelligence Unit. A sample of paperwork was examined and was appropriately completed. Adjudications are held in a room adjacent to 'E' Hall. An adjudication observed was carried out in accordance with SPS guidelines. Ample information was given to the prisoner and explanations and clarifications given. The adjudications are carried out by all members of the management team, with the duty governor being responsible. Prisoners raised no issues regarding the adjudication system.

Night Duty

3.18 One manager and seven staff comprise the night shift. Night Duty Instructions were found to be up to date and user friendly. Staff clearly understood the importance of their role in terms of the security of the prison and the safety of the prisoners.

3.19 All operations officers cover the night shift. The size of the Operations Group means an Officer is on night duty every six weeks. When asked about emergency procedures all Officers were competent and confident. This confidence is helped by the fact that the Night Duty Manager is on constant night shift cover.

3.20 The call-in system for the doctor is good during night duty. The on-call doctor will give advice over the telephone and when required will attend the prison. In an emergency an ambulance will be called. When a prisoner is taken to hospital during the night staffing is reduced. As a result of the higher average age of the prisoners in Peterhead this occurs more regularly than in most other prisons. However, no concerns were raised in relation to night duty.