HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall – positive work undermined by continuing poor regime

HMP/YOI Swinfen Hall in Staffordshire, holding 530 males aged between 18 and 28, was found by inspectors to have improved in some respects, and to have committed and hard-working staff. However, all areas of prison life were adversely affected by a poor regime.

Many prisoners were locked up for 22 hours a day, which meant they did not attend training and education or get access to telephones or showers, and often had to eat in their cells, on or near cell toilets.

Swinfen Hall was last inspected in 2016. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said: “While there had been noticeable improvements in some areas, none of them had been sufficient to raise any of our healthy prison assessments.

“There had been improvements in the provision of education and skills, and some of the residential accommodation had benefitted from refurbishment…But the simple fact was that, despite the improvements, too many fundamental issues still needed to be resolved.

“First and foremost among these was the poor regime, which had a negative impact on so much else in the prison. We found that it was disrupted about 60% of the time, limiting access to work and education. Thirty-nine per cent of prisoners told us they were locked in their cells for more than 22 hours each day during the week, a figure that rose to 65% at weekends. This meant that only 27% had daily access to telephones, limiting their ability to maintain family contact or to complete domestic tasks such as cleaning their cells.

“Only a quarter of prisoners were able to have a daily shower, which compared very poorly with the 89% who were able to do so in other similar prisons…The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners was also clearly adversely affected by the poor regime and the long periods of lock up.

Mr Clarke added: “It was our clear view that if the regime could be improved, Swinfen Hall could become a quite different prison.”

Inspectors noted that health care provision was generally good, and prisoners held positive views about it. The prison also had a robust approach to dealing with violence, and the fairly new violence reduction strategy had much to commend it, although there needed to be a sharper focus on violence reduction. However, Mr Clarke said, “we were particularly concerned by the very high levels of self-harm, and the fact that this was disproportionately high among younger prisoners…A significant amount of this total was attributable to a small number of prisoners, but this was nevertheless extremely worrying.

“The poor regime undoubtedly affected many areas of prison life, but clearly had a particularly acute impact on younger prisoners and those who were vulnerable or prone to committing acts of self-harm.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“There was much good work being carried out at Swinfen Hall by a committed and hard-working staff group, but the prison will not fulfil its potential to provide a consistently purposeful and caring environment for the young prisoners held there unless and until the poor regime is improved.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has recognised the improvements in living conditions and education and skills training which are crucial to successful rehabilitation. However, we realise that more needs to be done to tackle self-harm in the prison, so we have hired additional psychology and mental health resources to support vulnerable prisoners. We are also improving the daily regime by increasing purposeful activity.”

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Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 10 January 2019, can be found here.
  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/YOI Swinfen Hall, near Lichfield in Staffordshire, takes young men aged between 18 and 25 serving from 3.5 years up to and including life. Most were serving long sentences of over four years, including some 10% serving sentences of more than 10 years. The prison was last inspected in November 2016, when outcomes for prisoners were found to have deteriorated from the previous inspection in 2014 with assessments declining in three of our four healthy prison tests.
  4. This unannounced inspection took place between 6 and 23 August 2018.
  5. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at john.steele@justice.gov.uk, if you would like more information.