HMIP Inspections of Belmarsh

The prison was last inspected in August 2021 and the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

Belmarsh is a high-security, men’s prison in south-east London that held 675 men at the time of our inspection, of whom nearly 60% were unsentenced and 17% were category A prisoners. Within the jail there is also high secure unit. The prison services the London courts, particularly Woolwich and the Old Bailey, but because of reduced courtroom space created by COVID-19 restrictions, prisoners had been attending courts further afield. This had led to a strain on resources in the prison because more staff were required for escort duty.

While maintaining a strong security focus, the governor had set out to improve relationships between officers and prisoners and to create a more representative and caring staff team. Although this change was not manifested in our survey results, inspectors commented on the many positive interactions they saw in the jail and prisoners often told us about supportive staff members. Leaders recognised there was further work to be done to improve the culture in the prison: for example, many staff routinely failed to collect or turn on body[1]worn cameras and we saw officers who were supposed to be supervising the most vulnerable prisoners, sitting reading the paper.

Although the prison felt generally well-ordered and calm, levels of violence had risen since our last inspection despite COVID-19 restrictions limiting the time most prisoners were out of their cells. While the prison collected data on violence and use of force, it was not being used to support the development of an effective strategy for reducing violence. It was concerning that there had been no violence reduction meeting for more than a year.

The underuse of data was something of a theme of this inspection – leaders did not have an adequate plan to consider outcomes for different groups such as the disproportionate use of force on black and younger prisoners, and neither data nor consultation were used to understand and address these or other disparities. While the prison’s self-assessment report (SAR) suggested violence had reduced because there were fewer incidents, in reality, with fewer prisoners in the jail, rates were actually increasing.

The prison had not paid sufficient attention to the growing levels of self-harm and there was not enough oversight or care taken of prisoners at risk of suicide. Urgent action needed to be taken in this area to make sure that these prisoners were kept safe.

The 52% of prisoners who were not working were spending 23 hours a day locked in their cells while the education block, gym and library had sat empty and unused for more than a year. The provider was finally running some face[1]to-face education on the wing, though access was limited, and some prisoners were getting taught through their cell doors during the lunchtime lockdown. In[1]cell work packs were being offered to prisoners, but engagement had been low and prisoners in the high secure unit received no regular education. Two men who had volunteered to be reading mentors had received no training, materials or support.

The governor had a strong vision for the future of the prison, but for this to be realised she will need to strengthen her senior team and make sure that there is more rigorous oversight of some of the key areas – such as care for the most vulnerable prisoners, effective safety strategies and a better understanding of disparities between different groups – and use data to understand the challenges, set targets and measure progress.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
September 2021

Return to Belmarsh

To read the full reports follow the links below:

  • Inspection report (1 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Belmarsh by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (26-27 July and 2-6 August 2021)
  • HMP Belmarsh (624.84 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Belmarsh (29 January – 9 February 2018)
  • HMP Belmarsh (PDF, 781.79 kB),Report on an announced inspection of HMP Belmarsh (2 – 6 February 2015)
  • HMP/YOI Belmarsh, Unannounced inspection of HMP/YOI Belmarsh (2-13 September 2013)
  • HMP Belmarsh, Unannounced inspection of HMP Belmarsh (6 – 15 April 2011)
  • HMP Belmarsh, Update to the report of the full unannounced inspection in April 2011 of HMP Belmarsh (31 August 2011)
  • HMP Belmarsh, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Belmarsh (27 April-1 May 2009)
  • HMP Belmarsh, Full announced inspection of HMP Belmarsh (8-12 October 2007)