Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) and Young Offender’s Institute (YOI) Doncaster has been blasted as “badly overcrowded” and “worryingly violent” by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Chief Inspector Peter Clarke conducted an unannounced visit at HMP Doncaster in September 2019, where he found 1,100 prisoners at the facility despite its in-use certified normal capacity being 729 inmates. Clarke’s report, published on 30 January, found more than half of prisoners (52%) to present a “high risk of harm” and found five suicides to have occurred in the 12 months prior to his inspection.
Clarke’s report on HMP Doncaster, which houses both young offenders (aged 18 – 21) as well as adult males, is the latest in a series of reports from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, which found unacceptable levels of violence, overcrowding, and disrespect experienced by prisoners across England and Wales.
The Inspector notes that despite HMP Doncaster being a “reasonably modern prison” there are too many people – 30% of which are aged under 25 years old - living in overcrowded conditions. “I saw many [prison] cells holding two people that were simply not fit to do so, on grounds of both size and simply decency” Clarke writes. He notes that there are 700 such prisoners who are housed in “doubled up” cells which were only designed to hold one person.
“The overcrowded conditions in which many prisoners were held were compounded by the fact that there was not enough for them to do, and too many were locked up for too long. During the inspection we found 44% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day, which is a very high figure for this type of prison.”
Serious assaults experienced by prisoners were noted as being higher than those recorded during the previous inspection in 2017, as well as higher when compared to similar prisons, though they have declined somewhat recently. In addition to the five suicides in the 12 months before the visit, there was one more recorded just after this latest inspection. Prior recommendations by the Prisons Ombudsman in respect of in-custody-deaths are not being implemented by HMP Doncaster, according to Clarke. He also notes that prison authorities were not doing enough to determine what factors were contributing to the self-inflicted deaths by their prisoners.
The report was not entirely critical. It found that the prison achieved 17 out of 46 recommendations made after the previous inspection in 2017. For example sex-offenders were previously not receiving any provisions for their needs by accredited interventions, nor were appropriate precautions being taken in respect of the risk some of them posed. This “major concern” has since been rectified, according to Clarke. Furthermore, a “great deal of good work” has been done by HMP Doncaster in the field of resettlement of prisoners and planning for their release, he says.
“Doncaster is a busy and complex prison with a transient population, many of whom pose significant risks to the public, to each other and, all too often, to themselves.” Clarke reports.
HMP Doncaster is run by the for-profit company SERCO which implements many outsourced public services including within the criminal justice system.
On 22 January the charity INQUEST accused the British government of “neglect” and “systemic failings” resulting in unnecessary deaths and self-harm among prisoners across England and Wales. They have recommended that prisons start to be considered a place of “last resort” with drastic reduction in the numbers of those incarcerated, and redirecting resources to community-based support.