Serious concerns about the impact of staff shortages at HMP Bristol

The report, based on the Bristol Board’s monitoring through 2015-16, records a number of serious concerns, most of which have arisen from under-resourcing, particularly among front line staff. The Board’s two previous Annual Reports raised with Ministers their increasing concern at the adverse impact of significantly reduced staffing levels on the regime and on relationships between officers and prisoners. This situation has not improved over the past reporting year and has seriously hampered progress with a new regime introduced by the Governor in March.

At its heart the new regime is designed to maximise purposeful activity among prisoners by enrolling as many as possible in work and/or education. There has been encouraging growth in employment opportunities during 2016 and when fully operational the new regime promises considerably improved outcomes for prisoners and staff. However, with no margin for unexpected demands, key aspects of the regime, particularly those that depend on staff availability to escort prisoners from the wings, have been regularly curtailed. The Board is clear that, without adequate resourcing and a more stable workforce, higher standards of safety, decency and rehabilitation are unsustainable.

The presence of drugs in the prison, particularly NPS (New Psychoactive Substances), with its unpredictable effects on users, has added to the pressure on resources, often diverting officers onto emergency duties. Drugs are prevalent on the residential wings in spite of recent improvements in detection and drug testing. The Board has been concerned that, at times, heightened levels of tension, confrontation and violence associated with drug use have rendered the prison unsafe for prisoners and staff.

Other longstanding issues of concern have been drawn to the attention of the National Offender Management Service in previous Annual Reports but have yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of the Board. In particular: the poor condition of some communal areas (including showers and toilets) and cells; unsatisfactory levels of cleanliness on some wings – cockroach infestation is a frequent complaint; and the difficulty prisoners’ families experience in booking visits.