HMP Durham praised after significant fall in violence – but concerns remain over access to healthcare for prisoners and post-release support

Physical assault, verbal abuse and theft were found to be lower at a North East prison than many similar institutions across the country, according to inspectors.

Following its latest assessment of HMP Durham, in Durham City, the government’s prisons watchdog found levels of violence among inmates had been slashed by almost two thirds since its last inspection.

Improvements in behaviour have been attributed to improved efforts to keep drugs out of cell blocks, with bosses also praised for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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But concerns remain about the treatment of prisoners while incarcerated, with issues relating to healthcare, post-release planning and access to education all raised.

HMP Durham.HMP Durham.
HMP Durham.
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Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, commented: “Much credit must go to the impressive governor and to what was a generally strong leadership team, who had worked together to reduce the supply of drugs into the prison.

"This had contributed to a more than 60% fall in violence since our last inspection, making the prison one of the safer category B locals in the country.

"Throughout the inspection the prison felt calm and generally well-ordered.”

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However, assessors also noted delays for routine GP appointments, with 264 prisoners on the waiting list during the inspection, several of whom had been waiting more than eight weeks.

The watchdog also found “urgent action” was need to look at use of force and “physical intervention” by staff.

And while some prisoners were found to be spending too long locked in their cells, a “worrying” 43% were released without “suitable accommodation” lined up.

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A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We are pleased that inspectors have recognised the hard work of staff at HMP Durham whose efforts have reduced violence by two-thirds.

“Too many prisoners leave jail without stable accommodation and a dedicated team at HMP Durham provides extra support to find at-risk offenders a home.

"This is on top of the £200 million we’re spending to help prison leavers up and down the country – which has already led to a 30% drop in homelessness.”

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