HMIP Inspections of Deerbolt

The prison was given an inspection in July 2021, 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:

“Deerbolt is a prison and young offender institution located near to Barnard Castle in County Durham. The establishment is normally capable of holding more than 500 young adult prisoners aged 18 to 24 years old, but a rolling programme of refurbishment and upgrades meant that this number had been dramatically reduced and only 265 prisoners were held at the time of our visit. Of these, nearly two-thirds were under the age of 21.

When we last inspected Deerbolt in 2018 we found a prison that was reasonably safe and respectful, but one that surprisingly, bearing in mind the resources available, needed to improve the regime experienced by those detained and its approach to the rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners about to be released. At this inspection we again found a mixed picture, showing a deterioration in safety outcomes and the quality of regime, but improvement in work towards resettlement.

Deerbolt had been impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic which partly explained the deterioration of the regime. Leaders and managers had taken effective action to minimise the spread of the virus, although at the time of our visit the prison had been declared an outbreak site for the third time in recent months. One prisoner and six members of staff had tested positive and a larger group of staff were isolating after being contacted by NHS test and trace. All prisoners and staff had been offered the vaccine and regular testing was available. This is important context, but it remained the case that the experience was very poor for these young prisoners who were typically spending 23 hours a day locked in cell with little structured activity. The impact of this on prisoners was stark and much more needed to be done, and greater ambition shown, in making sure that more work, education and recreational activity was reintroduced as a priority. This was particularly disappointing given the large amounts of outdoor space at the prison.

In contrast, the prison had made commendable improvements to sentence planning and risk management arrangements and we were confident there were plans in place to develop this work further. Similarly, we noted some good work to support care leavers and the introduction of a new and interesting initiative to support young people as they transitioned to Deerbolt from juvenile facilities during their sentence. Outcomes in health care, mental health care and social care were likewise much improved and ensured some positive outcomes.

It was clear to us that the governor had a vision for Deerbolt’s future, but it was perhaps less clear how progress would be measured or how and when the vision could be realised. During the inspection itself, leaders did make some improvements in response to our feedback and findings. While welcome, this confirmed to us a somewhat reactive approach to issues and the absence of a useful plan which identified priorities and timeframes for progress. Oversight of violence reduction measures, for example, was poor, which led to a response that was reactive and limited rather than one which dealt with the underlying conflict and issues. This will need to be addressed as the regime improves.

Deerbolt is a prison which retains great potential. We encourage leaders and managers to show greater confidence in the restoration and development of the regime and make better use of the extensive space. We also encourage them to develop a more consultative and ambitious approach with prisoners that expects more of them and incentivises their engagement with what the prison is able to offer.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
July 2021

Return to Deerbolt

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below: