HMP Winchester - safety a major concern in local prison and weak purposeful activity on both sites

An inspection of HMP Winchester – a category B local prison and category C resettlement unit on the same site – in the summer of 2019 was disappointing, with high levels of violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths in the local prison.

The smaller resettlement unit was assessed as reasonably good for safety and respect. However, purposeful activity – work, training and education – was poor on both sites.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, published a report on the inspection at the Hampshire prison in June and July 2019.

In the local prison, inspectors found significant deterioration since the previous inspection in 2016. In the category C unit, though purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning had both deteriorated, inspectors found some evidence that the decline had been arrested and some tentative improvements made.

Winchester was not safe enough, Mr Clarke said. Violence remained rare on the category C site but had increased markedly in the local prison, particularly against staff. Fortunately, most recorded incidents were not classified as serious.

Almost a quarter of prisoners said they felt unsafe and well over half reported feeling victimised. Use of force by staff had increased since 2016, which the prison attributed in part to the inexperience of their staff. Special accommodation was used too frequently and the segregation unit remained “a dismal place”. The mandatory positive drug testing rate had fallen from 30% to 16%, suggesting that some supply reduction initiatives were having an impact, but 59% of prisoners nonetheless thought it was easy to obtain drugs in the prison.

The lack of improvement in work to reduce self-harm remained a significant concern for inspectors. Recorded incidents of self-harm had doubled since 2016, leading to levels higher than any other local prison in the country. Seven prisoners had taken their own lives since the last inspection, three in the previous 12 months. The prison’s response to recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following investigations was not robust.

However, most prisoners indicated that they could turn to staff for help and keyworker arrangements had been introduced successfully. Inspectors highlighted the comprehensive recording by keyworkers of prisoners’ behaviour and progress as good practice.

Cells on the category C unit were well equipped. In the local prison living conditions were not as good, and overcrowding and poorly equipped and damaged cells were common.

Time out of cell for prisoners on the local site was very poor. During the working day about a third of prisoners were locked up and far too few were in purposeful activity. Those not at work or in education were typically out of their cell for just 90 minutes on a weekday and those on restricted basic regime had as little as 45 minutes. Most prisoners were locked up for most of the day at weekends. Prisoners on the category C site were unlocked from their cells.

Ofsted inspectors assessed the provision of work and skills as ineffective. In the area of resettlement work inspectors found “pockets of good rehabilitative practice” but the purpose of the category C unit was unclear and it certainly did not fulfil a resettlement function.

Mr Clarke said he seriously considered invoking HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ Urgent Notification process, which would have required the Secretary of State to produce an action plan for improvement within 28 days.

“It would have been very easy to justify doing so. However […] I believe the Urgent Notification process is best reserved for when there is no other obvious or feasible solution, when the intervention of the Secretary of State is needed to bring about some strategic or significant organisational change. In the case of Winchester, we did not consider that this was the case and believed the changes needed to bring about improvement were all within the gift of the prison itself.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said, senior managers had been appointed relatively recently and were supported by a team of managers “who impressed us as optimistic and committed.” He added:

“There [is] a lot still to do at Winchester. Safety was a priority, but improvements here need to be linked to the introduction of a coherent and deliverable regime that would get prisoners out of their cells and using their time purposefully. In our view, managers need to focus on the basics, ensuring they measure and assess improvement critically, based on evidence. They then need to ensure such improvement is sustained.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service Director General for Prisons, said:

“There is still much to do at HMP Winchester, but I know the Governor and his staff have been working hard to improve safety and I am pleased inspectors have recognised their dedication to achieving that. Everybody at the prison has been focused on delivering further improvement. Since the inspection, prisoners who are new to custody are receiving additional support, repair and improvement work is ongoing and the most violent and high-risk prisoners are being managed better.”

– End –

Notes to editors
1. A copy of the full report, published on 7 January 2020, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website.
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 Winchester is in effect two prisons in one institution: a traditional category B local prison for adult and young adult men, and an adjacent but separate category C unit holding adult men. At the time of our inspection some 486 prisoners were being held, of whom 122 were housed in the category C facility. Owing to the contrasting character and purpose of the distinct parts of the prison, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has assessed each facility separately against its healthy prison tests. HMP Winchester was built in 1849 and has a radial design, typical of Victorian prisons. The prison covers an area of approximately six acres. In 1908, the health care centre was built, and in 1964 another unit was added for use as a remand centre holding young offenders. The unit, known as Westhill, continued to be used until 1991 when it housed women prisoners. In 2004, its role changed to a category C resettlement unit.
4. Notable features from this inspection: Winchester was operating on a full complement of staff; about 70% of prison officers had less than two years’ experience in post; and levels of self-harm were the highest in the adult local prison estate.
5. HM Inspectorate of Prisons assesses adult prisons against four ‘healthy prison tests’ – safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning. There are four assessments – good (4), reasonably good (3), not sufficiently good (2) and poor (1). The two sites are Winchester were assessed separately. The assessment outcomes in 2019 and 2016 are captured on pages 13 and 14 of the report.
6. This unannounced inspection took place between 17 June and 5 July 2019.
7. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.