HMP Hewell - substantial safety concerns

HMP Hewell was facing real difficulties and needed to improve safety as well as the provision of some basic services, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the local prison and open prison in Worcestershire.

HMP Hewell is a local prison which serves the West Midlands courts. In 2008 it merged with a nearby open prison to create a combined facility holding just over 1,300 prisoners, approximately 200 of whom are held in open conditions. The local part is relatively modern while the open element is a 19th century house formerly known as Hewell Grange. At its last inspection in 2013, the prison was still recovering from the escape of a prisoner under escort, with significant management turnover and staff lacking in motivation. This inspection found limited progress and deterioration in some areas. Many basic systems that greatly impacted prisoners did not work.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • prisoners at the closed and open sites reported feeling less safe and more victimised than prisoners at comparable prisons;
  • on the closed site, levels of violence were significant, there had been a murder in early 2013 and arrangements to confront violence and investigate incidents were inadequate;
  • since the last inspection the prison had experienced six self-inflicted deaths, all on the closed site;
  • evidence suggested illicit drugs or diverted prescription medications were readily available in the closed site;
  • use of force was increasing and arrangements to ensure accountability required greater rigour;
  • some 40% of cells were overcrowded, the provision of many basic services such as clothing and cleaning materials were all problematic and cell call bells were not answered quickly;
  • a number of complaints, including some serious allegations against staff, had been investigated poorly or, in some cases, not at all;
  • there was much work to do to improve the quality of work, education and training, particularly on the closed site; and
  • offender management work was poorly organised and under-resourced at both sites.

However, inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • prisoners at risk of self-harm felt reasonably well cared for;
  • security was applied proportionately at both sites;
  • substance misuse services were appreciated by prisoners but undermined by staff shortages;
  • most prisoners were positive about the levels of respect shown by staff;
  • cleanliness had improved from the very poor conditions observed at the last inspection; and
  • the prison had a reasonably good strategy to deliver resettlement, with good work on housing, maintaining family ties and restorative justice.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Hewell continues to face real difficulties. We identified substantial safety concerns on the closed site and there was much to do to make it a more respectful place. Resettlement was not good enough on both sites. The prison was not doing the basics properly, as evidenced by poor access to amenities, a weak applications system and poor investigation of sometimes very serious complaints. The frustration this created for prisoners was evident in negative outcomes such as bullying and self-harm. The prison had strengths, including good relationships between staff and prisoners, but these needed to be harnessed to greater purpose. A new governor had begun to address basic service provision. A methodical, systematic and incremental approach to the prison’s problems was needed and this process had started.”

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

“I accept that progress in delivering necessary improvements at Hewell has been too slow. Prior to this unannounced inspection a new Governor had been appointed to lead a Performance Improvement Programme, and as the Chief Inspector acknowledges, he is now getting to grips with the issues in a systematic and structured way.

“Given that Hewell has tragically suffered a number of suicides, I’m pleased that the Inspection found that prisoners at risk of self-harm were being well cared for and that relationships between staff and prisoners were positive. This provides a solid foundation to achieve the improvements required and I’m confident that the action taken by the Governor will achieve this.”

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. HMP Hewell is a category B local male prison and a category D open male prison.
  4. This unannounced inspection was carried out from 7-18 July 2014.
  5. Please contact Barbara Buchanan on 020 3681 2772 if you would like more information or to request an interview.