HMP Woodhill - a mixed picture

Outcomes for prisoners remain mixed at HMP Woodhill and disappointing in areas, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the core local jail near Milton Keynes.

HMP Woodhill, part of the Prison Service’s high security estate, is a complex prison with multiple functions. It is one of three ‘core local’ prisons in England. Its main function is to act as a local prison holding remand, newly sentenced and short-term prisoners from the south east Midlands. Its ‘core’ function extends this to encompass newly arrived or potential category A prisoners from across the Midlands, adding greatly to the security and control requirements placed on the establishment.

A new management team, including a new governor, were getting to grips with the challenges of managing the prison. Previous inspections of Woodhill have described it as adequate or satisfactory. This inspection found a very mixed set of assessments across the inspectorate’s four tests of a healthy prison. The lack of purposeful activity remained a recurring theme.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • despite some improvement in the approach to safety, outcomes were still not good enough;
  • more prisoners reported feeling unsafe than at the last inspection, although levels were broadly comparable to similar prisons;
  • recorded levels of assault were very high and double what inspectors have seen in other local prisons;
  • the number of self-harm incidents was very high and almost double what inspectors normally see in a local prison;
  • five prisoners had taken their own lives since the last inspection in January 2012 and the prison’s response lacked rigour;
  • use of force remained high, although much was at a low level;
  • the amount of time prisoners spent out of their cells had deteriorated considerably and association was limited and further reduced by staff shortages;
  • overall, not enough was being done to improve the employability of prisoners, although learning and skills provision was better managed;and
  • resettlement work and the management of risk through offender management lacked coordination.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • overall, Woodhill was a respectful prison although the quality of relationships between staff and prisoners had weakened;
  • the general environment in the prison was good and the accommodation was reasonable;
  • the prison was undertaking some good work to promote equality and health services were generally good, with the exception of mental health provision; and
  • services to support family contact had improved.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Woodhill is a prison that retains great potential, particularly in terms of the resources at its disposal. However, as we reported last time, outcomes for prisoners remained concerning and some were very disappointing. The prison was experiencing a period of management change but there was reason to believe that the new governor and his team were making serious attempts to assess the current situation with clarity and honesty. This was the right start but we hope to see more consistent and improved outcomes when we next inspect.”

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

“Woodhill holds some of the most difficult and disruptive men in the prison estate, presenting the Governor and his staff with a unique set of challenges.

“However, despite the challenging and transient population I am pleased that the Inspector recognises the improvements which have already been made in providing a safe, secure and respectful environment for the prisoners held there.

“The governor and his staff are working hard to reduce incidents of violence and to improve rehabilitation – they will use the recommendations in this report to accelerate that work.”

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 Woodhill is a core local prison within the high-security estate. It holds remand and convicted adults and young prisoners, including those categorised as A. It also accommodates prisoners who are managed under the national protected witness scheme, close supervision centre (CSC)/Rule 46 and Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy (MCBS) but the latter two units were not inspected on this occasion as they will be inspected as part of a national strategy.

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.