The provision of work, training and education had improved at HMP Woodhill and its rehabilitation services were good, but violence and a high number of self-inflicted deaths were significant concerns, said Martin Lomas, Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the jail near Milton Keynes.
HMP Woodhill is as a core local prison, meaning while the bulk of its population is a mixture of remanded and short-sentenced men with the mental health, substance misuse and other issues typical of local prisons, it also has a high security function for a small number of category A prisoners. The prison also has a Close Supervision Centre (CSC), part of a national system for managing some of the most high-risk prisoners in the system, which is inspected separately. Previous inspections of HMP Woodhill have repeatedly raised concerns about the prison and, in particular, weaknesses in the support of men at risk of suicide or self-harm and the poor provision of work, training and education. This inspection found real improvements had been made but more still needed to be done to reduce the likelihood of further self-inflicted deaths. There had been five more self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection, making nine since 2012. This was an unacceptable toll.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
early days in custody are a critical time and five of the nine deaths since 2012 had involved new arrivals who had been in the prison for less than two weeks;
reception processes were efficient but the role of the first night centre was undermined because it was also used to hold prisoners difficult to locate elsewhere;
some prisoners requiring opiate substitution treatment or alcohol detoxification were mistakenly placed in the first night centre rather than the specialist stabilisation unit, which was particularly dangerous for prisoners requiring alcohol detoxification;
too many first night cells were dirty and poorly equipped;
recommendations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following previous deaths in custody had not been implemented with sufficient rigour;
there were not enough Listeners (prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to prisoners);
mental health services had been hit by staff shortages and only 18% of residential staff had received mental health awareness training in the past three years; and
although the prison felt calm, a sizeable minority (one in five prisoners) said they felt unsafe at the time of the inspection and levels of violence were higher than elsewhere and included some serious assaults on prisoners and staff.
However, inspectors were pleased to find that:
impressive progress had been made in the provision of work, training and education, and the provision of activity for short-term prisoners was an example other local prisons could follow;
the quality of teaching and learning had improved and there was good emphasis on helping prisoners to improve their literacy and numeracy;
activities were intelligently geared to the labour markets in areas to which most prisoners would be returning;
the support given to prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm was often better than the records showed and those prisoners subject to ACCT monitoring told inspectors they felt well cared for;
security arrangements were generally appropriate for the population;
drug availability was lower than elsewhere, although the prison needed to be alert to the increasing availability of Spice;
the environment in the segregation unit had improved and staff worked well with some very complex prisoners;
there had been good progress in reducing the backlogs in risk assessments and sentence planning and public protection arrangements were good; and
despite the complexity of new arrangements, including two new community rehabilitation companies working in the prison, most practical resettlement services were good.
Martin Lomas said:
“HMP Woodhill is an improving prison and its very good purposeful activity and good rehabilitation services are better than we have seen recently in many other local prisons. Good outcomes in these areas help to create a sense of purpose and hope and reduce frustration and tension. Despite this, levels of violence are a significant concern and the number of self-inflicted deaths in recent years has been unacceptably high. The main priority of the prison must be to tackle these two areas.”
Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service, said:
“As the Chief Inspector says, Woodhill has made impressive progress in providing work, education, training and support to help prisoners turn their lives around.
“Given the significant operational pressures the prison has faced this is an excellent achievement.
“Tackling increased levels of violence and preventing suicides is the top priority for the Governor and for the Prison Service as a whole. Tragically, as recent incidents at Woodhill have demonstrated, the challenge is considerable – but we will use the recommendations in this report to further develop and improve our approach.”