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HMP Bristol – not fit for purpose

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of HMP Bristol has been shocked and saddened by the recent number of deaths in custody at Bristol. In its 2022-23 annual report, the IMB highlights the high levels of self-harm and violence and says that there has been little improvement in areas of concern it has raised previously. In a recent HMIP inspection Bristol was described as one of the most unsafe prisons in Britain and received an urgent notification. Staffing pressures contribute to a vicious cycle of prisoners spending longer hours in their cells, increasing frustration and reducing access to education, healthcare and other services, which does not support effective rehabilitation.

Over the year the Bristol IMB has seen:

  • A concerning rise in serious safety issues – Bristol prison had one of the highest numbers of deaths across the country, and highest levels of self harm and violent incidents when compared to other similar prisons. Nine deaths were reported during the year of which six are apparently self-inflicted, and one an apparent murder.
  • An increase in the number of prisoners – from 480 to 580 with no increase in the number of cells or additional staff. The prison is now overcrowded with over six out of 10 prisoners now sharing a cell, many of which were built for one person in Victorian times, for up to 22 hours a day.
  • Lack of prison staff on duty – staffing levels were below the required levels and on some days the numbers on duty were below the minimum level needed. This affects the consistent delivery of full daily activities, which were often cancelled on the day.
  • Insufficient healthcare – to support the growing number of prisoners with complex physical and mental health needs. There continue to be long waits for prisoners requiring specialist mental health units, who are more than often being held in segregation awaiting a transfer.

IMB Chair Emma Firman said:

“We are now seeing a prison that is being pushed to its limits. If the prison is to be fit for purpose, then additional resources and a reduction in overcrowding is needed to enable the hard working but overstretched staff to keep prisoners safe. Prisoners at Bristol are being failed and most will have a little chance of rehabilitation upon release.”