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HM Inspectorate of Prisons Report on HMP Peterhead: Full Inspection 14 - 20 June 2010



Setting the Scene

1.1 In many respects, visiting Peterhead prison is a journey into the past, for here is a prison, over 120 years old, where the core buildings are largely unchanged. The fabric of the prison is therefore poor and the lack of significant investment over many years clearly shows. Cellular accommodation is bad with narrow doors, cramped cells, low levels of natural light and inadequate ventilation. In addition, facilities in other areas of the prison, including Reception, the Learning Centre and the Gate area, are no longer fit for purpose.

1.2 Many have been waiting for a long time for Peterhead prison to be closed and for a new prison to be built. The announcement that HMP Grampian is to be built on site on an adjacent piece of ground has been welcomed by staff weary of 'making do'; however they will only be convinced when they see the foundations being laid. I mention this to illustrate the sense of fatigue that I felt from staff about the demanding situation in which they find themselves. Previous inspections have reported on this difficult state of affairs at Peterhead and yet, at best, the prison will be required to maintain the current role for a further four years. I will therefore be reporting again on Peterhead to ensure that current conditions do not deteriorate even further.

Inspection of Peterhead

1.3. Overall Peterhead is perceived as a safe prison by prisoners and they appreciate the freedom from abuse that many of them have experienced from other prisoners in mainstream prisons. There are comparatively low levels of violence but minor assaults have increased by almost 50% over a period of 12 months and this requires examination. There is little evidence of bullying or intimidation.

1.4 Staff and Managers suggest there is little or no drug abuse. However, drug testing is not robust and in the latest SPS Prisoner Survey a small number of prisoners admit to injecting and other forms of drug misuse and this is not being picked up in the prison (paragraph 8.24).

1.5 Peterhead prison is Scotland's national facility for long-term male sex offenders. Throughout the inspection inspectors felt the Governor and his staff were hampered by the lack of a National Sex Offender Strategy which should give guidance on a number of issues not least staff training, progression of prisoners and preparation for release.

1.6 Unlike any other prison in the United Kingdom, Peterhead has neither running water nor sanitation in cells. Instead prisoners use chemical toilets which are emptied twice a week by trained prisoner work parties. Hand-washing in cells is done using temporary basins with water from pump action flasks (paragraph 2.6)

1.7 The environmental impact of this 'slopping out' system on prisoners and staff alike is extremely unpleasant. The process of emptying the chemical toilets is a degrading activity for anyone to observe, far less participate in. At the time of the inspection I witnessed this emptying out process and was concerned to find that prisoners were not wearing the correct personal protective equipment and not following the safe system of work in which they had been trained. This is hardly surprising because some of the prison staff had not been trained to supervise the activity. On a return visit, I found prisoners wearing the correct protective equipment and prison officers trained and supervising the prisoners. However, the sluice sinks into which the waste is emptied are not modern and not fit for purpose. The ventilation in the sluice areas is inadequate for the task of dispersing the odours, which can be considerable. Whilst the Governor and his staff are to be congratulated for the considerable efforts they are making to try to address the situation, I still found this 'improved process' to be degrading and falling short of satisfactory hygiene standards.

1.8 Infection control measures in relation to hand cleaning in cells was found to be inadequate: the pump action flasks were unhygienic and appeared, in a number of cases, to be used for providing boiling water for hot drinks and not for washing hands. On my return visit, flasks were missing altogether from some cells and others still found to be dirty. Non- alcohol-based hand cleansing gel could be one alternative to the flasks.

1.9 In summary, I found the whole sanitation and the hand hygiene issue to be deeply unsatisfactory. In my opinion, a better solution needs to be found in order to facilitate 24 hour prisoner access to proper sanitation facilities and this needs to happen as quickly as possible (paragraphs 2.6 and 2.7).

1.10 In complete contrast to the issues surrounding the age of the buildings, I have been greatly encouraged by the staff at Peterhead. This report provides comprehensive evidence that prisoner/staff relationships are excellent (paragraphs 4.3 and 4.4)

1.11 The prisoner population at Peterhead provides staff with particular and unique challenges, yet in the main staff rise to this well. This may be helped by the ever-improving training regime at Peterhead where the Governor and his staff are providing good induction training and are beginning to lead the way on 'train the trainer' processes and for addressing the shortfalls in developmental training (paragraphs 3.45, 3.49, 3.50 and 3.51).

1.12 Nevertheless, there is insufficient role-specific training. There is not enough training for Personal Officers, although it is clear that the managers in charge of training are aware of this gap. This is becoming a regular theme in my reports and I hope to see a policy that sets out Personal Officer roles, supported by a comprehensive training package (paragraph 3.33).

1.13 I am somewhat disappointed by the lack of training to help prison officers cope with the risks of collusion and conditioning by prisoners at Peterhead. It is also odd that there is no apparent universal sex offender awareness and education training which is badly needed for all prison officers who manage sex offenders and all staff who come in to contact with them in the course of their duties (paragraph 3.48).

1.14 I now want to focus on the progression of Peterhead's prisoners and how they are prepared for release. I am concerned about the seeming lack of progress made by Peterhead prisoners on two counts. Firstly, not all prisoners in Peterhead are willing to address their offending behaviour. This is also true of some sex offenders held in other prisons - notably Dumfries - who similarly refuse to participate. Therefore too many are liberated without the benefit of attending relevant programmes to address their sex offending behaviour. As an example of this, nearly one quarter of the prison's population (24% - up from 0.6% since the last inspection in 2006) have been recalled to prison, an indication that their ability to adhere to the terms of their conditions of supervision is inadequate. I recommend that greater efforts are made to ensure the maximum number of prisoners attend programmes to address offending behaviour, and that all, without exception, are far more comprehensively prepared for release than is presently the case (paragraph 9.16).

1.15 Secondly it is clear that progression for prisoners at Peterhead is remarkably slow. Very few (nine during the past two years) move to national Top Ends or to the Open Estate. It is therefore clearly very difficult to assess and test prisoners in less secure conditions prior to release. This lack of progression raises the risk of re-offending. It is difficult to see how sex offenders are being sufficiently prepared and assessed for their capacity or motivation to lead a crime-free life on release. This report recommends that further work is done to see how best to test sex offenders in less secure conditions prior to release (paragraph 9.15).

1.16 This whole situation is exacerbated by the lack of programme provision to address offending behaviour. The Core, Adapted, Extended and Rolling Sex Offender Treatment Programmes were, until March of this year in Peterhead, the main programmes to address such behaviour. The Core SOTP ran for seven to nine months. All prisoners were expected to participate in SOTP yet in 2009-10 only 48 completed the course. A number of prisoners refuse to participate, but in reality the numbers are constrained by the lack of places and this is another reason why progression through the prison system for sex offenders can be so slow (paragraphs 9.43 and 9.44).

1.17 SOTP has now been replaced by the new 'Good Lives' programme in an effort to overcome some of the perceived inflexibility and costs of SOTP. This programme is not yet accredited nor is it evaluated and it needs to be both as soon as possible. It does though address issues of healthy sexual functioning which was a significant deficit in SOTP.

1.18 I was impressed, however, by the excellent Integrated Case Management and parole teams which are well organised and operated by knowledgeable and professional staff. However, they need augmentation to cope with the busy schedule and complex issues presented by Peterhead's population, and I would like to see more highly valued involvement by Personal Officers (paragraph 3.33). The Healthcare Team also deserve considerable praise for their commitment to improve and develop their service.

1.19 There is adequate access to constructive activity during the day with only 69 prisoners not participating in some form of activity. In many respects the vocational training is good and I was particularly impressed by the recycling project and access to therapeutic horticulture (paragraphs 7.1, 7.3 and 7.9). There are high levels of achievement in the prison (paragraph 7.24).

1.20 In summary there are many positives in Peterhead Prison but these are overshadowed by the very real issues surrounding the age and fabric of the prison. Considerable efforts will need to be made to ensure this situation does not worsen prior to closure. Substantial input is also required to maximise prisoner participation in sex offending and other relevant programmes and to better prepare them for release.