HMP Risley – well led but severe lock up during COVID-19 a serious concern

Read the report: HMP Risley

HMP Risley, a large men’s prison in Cheshire, was found by inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons to be well led and, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, to have continued to make progress in improving safety and respect for prisoners.

However, by the time of the Inspectorate’s scrutiny visit in November 2020, the prison had been operating under a severely curtailed regime for eight months, with most prisoners out of their cells for only an hour a day and some locked up for 28 hours at a time.

Prisoners told inspectors the effect of such long periods locked up was damaging to their mental health and Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, described the impact of the restricted regime was a serious concern.

Identifying positive findings during the visit, Mr Taylor said: “The management team had worked effectively, in partnership with health care staff and Public Health England, to control a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of the pandemic and to contain a later outbreak on G wing in September.”

The management team also promoted social distancing and cleanliness, with frequent cleaning of communal areas by a team of prisoner ‘COVID cleaners.’ Communication with staff and prisoners about COVID-19 had been good. Staff wore wearing fluid-resistant face masks in all areas of the prison, and weekly COVID-19 testing of staff had started on-site.

The prison had been among the first to reopen social visits and had resumed delivery of offending behaviour programmes to small groups in August.

Violence and self-harm had reduced at the start of the restrictions and despite a subsequent rise in the number of incidents, they remained below pre-pandemic levels. Safety meetings had continued throughout the pandemic and managerial oversight of this area was good.

Mr Taylor added: “We saw staff engaging well with prisoners. Most prisoners (79%) said that staff treated them with respect. Key work had been well embedded in the prison before the pandemic, and weekly checks on the well-being of more vulnerable prisoners and those near to release had continued during the COVID-19 period.”

Risley was a clean prison, although the residential units had suffered much wear and tear.

Work to promote equalities had improved considerably since the last full inspection in 2016 and had continued uninterrupted during the pandemic. Health care services had also improved since 2016, though prisoners’ dental health needs were not being fully met.

On a more concerning note, inspectors found that, for most prisoners, the regime was severely limited to around one hour a day unlocked, though 30% of prisoners had jobs – a larger proportion than inspectors have seen in some other prisons. The lack of in-cell telephony meant prisoners had to make calls during the short time available out of their cell.

Prisoners had weekly access to the gyms, but the sessions took place during their hour of unlock.

Sentence planning and risk assessment processes were up to date, but there was a large backlog in telephone call monitoring for public protection, which the prison urgently needed to address.

Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“We found strong leadership and a motivated management team that had risen to the challenges of the pandemic. At the same time, plans to progress the prison had not stopped. Despite the lack of some basic facilities, such as in-cell telephones and decent showers, there were ongoing efforts to improve the environment and to build on the already considerable work that had been done to make Risley a more respectful and safer place. However, the impact of lack of time unlocked for most prisoners some eight months since the start of the pandemic was a serious concern.”

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Notes to editors

  1. Read the report: HMP Risley. This report was published on 12 January 2021.
  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.
  4. On page 8 of the report you can read about the history and key facts about HMP Risley.
  5. On pages 11-13 you can find a summary of key concerns and recommendations, and nine examples of notable positive practice.
  6. This scrutiny visit took place between 17 and 24–25 November 2020.
  7. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 07880 787452, or at, for more information.