Brinsford holds 466 mostly young men and was found by inspectors to offer a poor daily regime with many prisoners locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day with little meaningful activity.
Despite such restricted time out of cell, violence at Brinsford, which is near Wolverhampton, was higher than at comparable prisons, though it had fallen since 2017.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited the prison in August 2021. Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, said: “Though violence had reduced since our last inspection, levels of assaults between prisoners were higher than at any of the comparator prisons.
"The attractive gardens (largely closed to prisoners) and the large open site belied a prison that faced some serious challenges in providing adequate care, education, training and rehabilitation and creating an environment that was safe and supportive to an often-troubled group of prisoners."
Much of the accommodation was in poor condition with many prisoners living in shabby cells, some of which had inadequate furniture and graffiti on the walls. The showers needed refurbishment and the communal areas were tatty and uninspiring.
Officers tended to congregate in offices away from the wings, Mr Taylor said: “Meaning prisoners were often left unsupervised. Inspectors saw poor behaviour going unchallenged by staff whose low morale seemed to have affected their motivation. The newly introduced incentives scheme was not being used to monitor or improve prisoners’ behaviour, because it had not been communicated effectively to staff and prisoners and was therefore not properly understood.”
Frontline officers often disagreed with the governor’s priorities, with Mr Taylor noticing: “Leaders and managers lacked visibility on the residential units and did not address the poor practice, limited supervision of prisoners on the wings, or inconsistent management of graffiti, loud music and poor behaviour by prisoners. It was of serious concern that the amount of time out of cell that staff were delivering on the wings differed from that in the published regime, and from the governor’s expectations.”
Mr Taylor said that progress to open the regime after Covid-19 restrictions had been slow and “it was depressing to find so many young men whiling away their time sleeping or watching daytime television. Leaders were not monitoring the regime adequately and were unaware that prisoners who were not working or in education were locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, despite a planned increase in the amount of time out of cell.” Face-to-face education was only provided to a few prisoners each day and opportunities for work were limited.
The gym provided irregular access for prisoners and this was cancelled when, particularly at weekends, staff members were cross-deployed to other work. There was some exercise equipment outside, but yards were small and, Mr Taylor added, “there was limited use of the extensive grounds that could have provided opportunities for outdoor activity for this largely young and energetic group of prisoners.”
On a more positive note, inspectors found a well-led and effective offender management unit that was supported by the governor. Enthusiastic staff had reopened the refurbished visits hall and visitors who had tested negative for COVID-19 were now able to hug prisoners. The inclusion of parents and other family members in supporting challenging or vulnerable prisoners was an impressive innovation.
Overall, Mr Taylor said: “The governor had rightly set ’back to basics’ as a priority for the prison, but plans were vague and had not been adequately communicated to staff and prisoners. This was a prison that required some real management grip; to make improvements, leaders must be clear about their expectations, set up effective systems for monitoring progress and be a visible presence on the wings, checking daily that that standards are being maintained.”
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “HMP Brinsford has taken steps to address the concerns raised by this report, including increasing time out of cells, recruiting more prison officers to boost morale, and reviewing cleaning schedules to improve conditions.
“More widely across the estate, we’ve secured an extra £315 million to invest in prison maintenance and carry out major refurbishments”