HMP Wymott – protecting vulnerable population and keen to resume offender behaviour work

Read the report: HMP Wymott

HMP Wymott, a male training prison in Lancashire with many vulnerable older prisoners, was found to have protected its population successfully from COVID-19 and to have maintained a “can-do” attitude to rehabilitative work during the period of restricted regime.

Wymott held just under 1,000 prisoners when inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited in August 2020. Its function is to enable prisoners to undertake work aimed at helping them to reduce the risks they pose. Half of the prisoners had been convicted of sexual offences. One third of prisoners were aged over 50 and there was a high prevalence of mental health problems and physical disabilities.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said Wymott had experienced an outbreak of the virus very early into the restricted regime and, sadly, two members of staff had died from COVID-19-related illnesses. No prisoners had died but at the peak of the outbreak, 34 prisoners were showing symptoms and almost half of the population needed to shield because they were vulnerable or extremely vulnerable to the risk that the virus presented. At that time, a quarter of staff were also shielding and absent from work.

“The prediction for Wymott in those early days was that there would be widespread infection and the potential for a number of deaths among prisoners,” Mr Clarke said. The measures, however, had been effective to date. No prisoners had tested positive for several weeks and the prison had cared for operational staff returning to work from shielding by allocating them to work on the shielding units, which inspectors identified as notable positive practice.

Mr Clarke it was refreshing to find a prison and a senior management team showing a clear commitment to managing the crisis while maintaining their ‘can do’ attitude. They worked closely with Public Health England and the NHS to put in place robust measures to promote infection control.

“Most staff and prisoners felt that the restrictions were necessary and proportionate, given the risks to the population. Prisoners we spoke to who were shielding were anxious that safeguards might be lifted too quickly, and, sensibly, the management team had adopted a cautious approach to this over the last few months.”

The number of violent incidents had reduced since the restricted regime had started. However, Mr Clarke added, “despite many staff promoting the idea that the rate of self-harm had decreased sharply since the start of the restricted regime, we could find no evidence for this. When we took into account the reduced population, the rate of recorded self-harm incidents in the last four months was the same as for the four months before the restrictions were put in place.” Inspectors urged the prison to guard against complacency in this area.

Wymott was committed to rehabilitation and reducing reoffending but the implementation of the restricted COVID-19 regime meant the suspension of much of the risk reduction work. Mr Clarke commented: “Prisoners felt the impact of the lack of progression opportunities and the lack of support from their offender managers. The governor was clear that this could not continue in the long term and was committed to returning to the rehabilitative focus that the prison used to have.”

Time out of cell had increased but it remained limited for most prisoners. However, the prison had plans to increase this further in the very near future. Over a quarter of the population continued to have employment on or off the wings but the lack of formal and purposeful education continued to be a significant gap.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“It is to the credit of the staff and prisoners that the consequences of the impact of COVID-19 have been managed well, and…the establishment had controlled the spread of the virus. It is perhaps now time to harness the obvious ‘can do’ attitude presented by Wymott, take further steps towards recovery and promote the rehabilitative culture that has, in the past, driven its ethos.”

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Notes to editors

1. Read the report: HMP Wymott. This report was published on 29 September 2020.

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. Read about the development of scrutiny visits (SVs) in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. These are short inspections which, while not as exhaustive as our full inspections, are more in-depth than the short scrutiny visits used in the early months of the pandemic. They include the reintroduction of a prisoner survey.

4. HMP Wymott, located in central Lancashire, is a category C training prison for adult male prisoners and a small number of young adults. Prisoners arrive at Wymott from all areas of England and Wales, and primarily go to there to undertake offending behaviour work and other activities aimed at helping them to reduce their risks, progress to open prisons or prepare for release. Wymott opened in 1979 as a short-term category C prison. There was extensive damage to the prison following a disturbance in 1993, after which part of it was rebuilt, and it was redesignated to hold prisoners convicted of sexual offences. The prison population increased in 2003-04, with the addition of two new wings, and again in 2008, when the therapeutic community opened. On learning of the restrictions to prison regimes at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prison entered command mode in March 2020; it adopted a temporary regime and reduced its population by about 100.

5. This scrutiny visit took place between 18 and 25–26 August 2020.

6. On pages 12-14 of the report you can find a summary of key concerns and recommendations, and four examples of notable positive practice identified by inspectors.

7. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, if you would like more information.