Disappointing and lacklustre response from the Government over Holme House prison, says Alex Cunningham MP.

Stockton North Labour MP Alex Cunningham has accused the government of sticking their heads in the sand over the damning report by inspectors who found a catalogue of problems in Holme House prison when they held an unannounced inspection earlier this year.

Alex Cunningham wrote to the Home Secretary demanding action to ensure the prison gets the support it needs and called on her to put the necessary leadership in place to address the failure to fully implement earlier recommendations, that spanned everything from safety of staff and escalating violence to education and rehabilitation.

The inspection was measured over four ‘healthy prison areas’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity, and rehabilitation and release planning. Of these, three areas remained at the same ‘not sufficiently good’ level since the last inspection. These are safety, respect, and rehabilitation and release planning. The final area, purposeful activity, has slipped from being rated ‘reasonably good’ in 2017 to ‘not sufficiently good’.

Furthermore, at the last inspection in July 2017, 62 recommendations were made. As of the latest inspection, just 24 of those have been achieved, a further 8 partially achieved and 29 remain unachieved. One was determined to be no longer relevant.

One in five prisoners reported feeling unsafe at the prison. The levels of overall violence were found to be a similar level to comparative prisons but there has been a sharp increase in assaults against staff and inspectors found little evidence of a strategic plan to address this. Three prisoners had killed themselves since the last inspection and incidences of self-harm had more than doubled. The quality of assessment of those prisoners at risk of self-harm and suicide varied greatly. 

Time out of cells was also found to be insufficient for a category C prison and while recreational facilities were good and well equipped, there remain problems with access. Many cells are not currently fit for purpose, with broken furniture and overcrowding remaining an issue.

Alex said:

“After reading the report, I had many concerns on the obvious shortcomings inside Holme House. I know staff have tried their best in difficult circumstances but there were clear failures of management right across the prison. I raised these concerns with Home Office, ultimately it was their responsibility to ensure the prison was making the progress it should have been.

“The response I received, from the Minister for Prisons and Probation was disappointing and lacklustre to say the least. The response spoke of the Governments plans to build more prisons, but this does absolutely nothing to resolve the issues at Holme House.

“It’s interesting that the minister choses to mention a report citing a “calmer atmosphere” and a “pleasant and clean environment”. But that report covers 2019 and does not negate the deeply concerning findings of the inspectors in March 2020.

“It strikes me that the Minister has got her head stuck firmly in the sand and had little or no knowledge of the issues I raised.

“It is essential that a prison functions well to ensure prisoners have the support they need to have a second chance. I had hoped the Government would take the grave failings at Holme House prison seriously and do everything they could to ensure the prison is fit for purpose. Clearly I expected too much of this Tory Government.”