HMP Whitemoor - a high security prison doing good work to manage its population

Most prisoners at HMP Whitemoor felt safe and the prison was generally calm and ordered, although vigilance was needed as there was potential for serious problems to occur, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the maximum security jail in Cambridgeshire.

HMP Whitemoor held 454 adult men at the time of the inspection, all of whom were serving long or indeterminate sentences for very serious offences. The prison held a disproportionately large Muslim population who accounted for approximately 40% of the total prison population. A small number of them had been convicted of offences relating to terrorism. Sixty-nine prisoners were held on the Fens unit, formerly the ‘Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit’, which provided intensive therapy to men with personality disorders. A further six men were held on the Close Supervision Centre (CSC), part of a network of facilities centrally managed by the Prison Service and inspected separately.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • prisoners at risk of self-harm were generally well supported;
  • security arrangements were appropriately stringent and illicit use of substances was well controlled;
  • support for those with substance misuse problems was very good;
  • living conditions were generally good;
  • in general relationships between staff and prisoners had continued to improve, although a small number of staff remained more distant;
  • time out of cell was reasonable and vocational training opportunities were good; and
  • all prisoners had good support from offender supervisors, public protection issues were very good and a range of offending behaviour courses appropriate to the population was offered.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • while use of force was low, oversight arrangements were poor and in a small number of cases, there was little use of de-escalation and evidence of excessive force being used; and
  • the segregation regime for a number of long-stay residents remained particularly poor.

Black and minority ethnic, Muslim and foreign national prisoners were much less positive about a range of issues relating to safety and respect and many Muslim prisoners said they felt victimised because of their faith. Some good work had been done to understand and address these issues better. The issues were complex. Across all groups, there were some very dangerous men, some of whom tried to influence and pressurise other prisoners. In some cases this was gang-related, and included some Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist offences who were an adverse influence on others. It was important not to confuse this with a development of religious faith which, for Muslims as for other prisoners, could be an important factor in positive changes of behaviour. More was still needed to assure prisoners of all faiths that their concerns were being dealt with seriously. The recently established multi-faith forum was a positive initiative and greater use still could have been made of the impressive chaplaincy team.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Overall Whitemoor was a safe, respectful and purposeful prison which provided some constructive opportunities for prisoners serving long sentences to address their offending behaviour. However, we had real concerns about the management and application of use of force and segregation which impacted negatively on some of the most vulnerable prisoners in the population, and which were a significant exception to this generally positive picture. The prison was doing some good work to manage its very diverse population and to understand and address the concerns of the significant number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners held. However, this remained a major challenge that needed a consistent high level of attention.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“Whitemoor manages very challenging and long-term prisoners so it is pleasing that the Chief Inspector has recognised the safe and purposeful environment it provides and the Governor and his staff deserve credit for their hard work in achieving this.
“They will now use the recommendations in the report to address the areas of improvement identified.”

Notes to Editors:
1. Read the report.
2. 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.
3. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 13-24 January 2014.
4. HMP Whitemoor is a maximum security prison for category A and B male prisoners. It is one of eight high security establishments in the prison estate.
5. Please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.