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Peterborough prison: staffing shortfalls compounding pressures on struggling prison

Peterborough prison, one of the country’s largest reception jails, is struggling with the churn of those caught in a cycle of reoffending and recall to prison, a new inspection report has found.

Peterborough’s population was transient and demand for resettlement help was high. The prison had released around 1,200 men in the last 12 months and in the same period had received around 700 men who had been recalled to prison for breaking the rules of their community supervision period. Around a third of those released were high risk prisoners. There was not enough housing support, with about 30% of all releases going out street homeless. Despite this high level of need, the housing adviser had not entered the prison for over a year and there had been no substantive head of reducing reoffending for nearly two years.

The early release scheme (End of Custody Supervised Licence) had added further pressure, and a number of men released under the scheme, for whom accommodation had not been found, had been recalled to prison even before their original release date had passed.

The prison was also struggling with staffing, with around a third of officers typically being unavailable for duty. Many staff said that they felt unsupported, and morale was low. Senior staff had also been deployed to support other Sodexo prisons over the last 18 months, which had contributed to the overall deterioration of the prison which inspectors had previously considered one of the better reception and resettlement prisons.

Other key areas of concern were overcrowding, a lack of health care staff and how long men were spending locked in their cells, with more than half not allocated to any form of purposeful activity and the daily regime cancelled or curtailed frequently due to the shortage of staff.

Drugs were also an increasing concern, with a third of prisoners telling inspectors it was easy to access illicit substances and mandatory random testing indicating that well over a quarter of the population were active drug users at the time of the inspection. A worrying 16% of prisoners said they had developed a problem since arriving at the jail. While the prison had a drug-free wing, this merely amounted to them signing a compact agreeing not to use illicit substances, with little clinical support on that wing to refrain from doing so.

This was a worrying inspection. It is particularly disappointing that Peterborough, which has historically been one of the better resettlement prisons in the country, has suffered for its more experienced staff being taken to shore up other struggling jails run by Sodexo. But its deterioration also shows the strain that is on all of our prisons at the moment, with common themes such as drugs, staffing challenges, overcrowding and a revolving door for those caught in a cycle of reoffending. Until prisons focus on breaking that cycle by providing meaningful education, employment and other rehabilitation, our communities will continue to suffer, because where there is reoffending, there are more victims.

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 9 April 2023, can be found on our website.
  2. This inspection took place between 8-18 January.
  3. HMP Peterborough is a private prison run by Sodexo. At the time of its inspection, it held 906 men.
  4. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  5. Please email if you would like more information.