HMP Leeds – A very successful local prison

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

HMP Leeds dealt with the challenges it faced very well, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the local jail in West Yorkshire.

HMP Leeds faced many of the typical challenges of a large, Victorian, inner-city local prison: it was chronically overcrowded, the physical condition of some parts of the prison was poor and it held a challenging and needy population. Although there was still room for improvement, much of what the prison did appeared to be very successful and inspectors identified much good practice that should be emulated elsewhere. At the heart of the prison’s success were very good staff-prisoner relationships which were among the best inspectors have seen at a local prison. Good relationships were underpinned by decent conditions, and both were a crucial factor in the overall safety of the prison.
Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • security was well informed, proportionate and well managed;
  • prisoners’ perceptions of their safety were better than in comparable prisons;
  • care for those most at risk of suicide or self-harm was very good;
  • the prison worked hard to reduce the supply and demand for drugs and alcohol. There was a good staged treatment programme for those with substance misuse problems, supported by well-trained staff and prisoner ‘recovery champions’;
  • communal areas were clean and very well cared for;
  • health care was good with some innovative practice, including ‘The Harbour’ facility that helped prisoners manage low-level mental health problems and the brain injury programme;
  • prisoners had a very good amount of time out of cell. Typically in a local prison, inspectors find between a third and half the prisoners locked behind their doors during the working part of the day. At Leeds, the figure was less than 1%;
  • the work of ‘prisoners’ information desks’ that provided practical help and signposted resettlement services and the use prisoners could make of their extended association time to sort out resettlement issues was part of a whole-prison approach to reducing reoffending;
  • the resettlement wing, use of release on temporary licence, ‘through-the-gate’ support and a scheme working with prolific and priority offenders were all excellent initiatives showing good early results in reducing reoffending; and
  • links to partner organisations were very strong.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • prisoners who were vulnerable because of their offence needed more protection from abuse, particularly when they first arrived;
  • the quality and quantity of food was poor. Meals were served extremely early and had to be eaten in cell; and
  • overcrowding meant there was a serious shortfall in the amount of activity available, but most men could at least get something part-time.

Nick Hardwick said:

“HMP Leeds shows what can be done despite poor physical conditions and overcrowding. Good relationships and treatment underpinned security and made the prison safe. Because the prison was generally safe, prisoners could spend a lot of time out of their cell. Prisoners used this opportunity to take part in activities likely to reduce the risk they would reoffend. Because prisoners felt they were making progress, that helped make the prison safer and relationships more relaxed, and so a virtuous circle was created. Improvements were still required and some of the progress the prison had made was fragile.

“There appears to be much that the rest of the Prison Service can learn from the experience of HP Leeds. This experience should be evaluated in more depth and the lessons applied to the government’s wider plans for rehabilitation.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

"This is an excellent report and the Governor and his staff deserve credit for the significant progress that has been made at Leeds which has been recognised by the Chief Inspector.

"The challenges in running an inner-city local prison of this size are considerable but Leeds has developed a safe, positive and supportive environment focused on rehabilitation which is a model we are looking to replicate across the Prison Service."

Notes to Editors:

  1. A copy of the report.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 8-18 January 2013.
  4. HMP Leeds is a category B local prison.
  5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 0207 035 2123 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview with Nick Hardwick.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons


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