HMP/YOI Hindley - creative work to reduce impact of COVID-19 restrictions but rising violence a concern

Read the report: HMP/YOI Hindley

HMP/YOI Hindley, a training and resettlement prison near Wigan, was found by inspectors to have worked well to control the COVID-19 virus, with only one confirmed case among prisoners since the start of the pandemic.

An outbreak among staff on one wing in December 2020 was also suppressed, according to a report on a scrutiny visit by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in that month. However, although COVID-19 safety procedures were clearly displayed, inspectors found that staff did not adhere to social distancing measures.

Hindley held up to 590 adult male prisoners, with nearly a quarter of the population under 21 and about half serving long sentences.

The amount of time out of cell for most prisoners had increased since the start of the pandemic to a 45-minute session in the morning and another 45 minutes in the afternoon. About a quarter of prisoners were involved in work outside cells. Prisoners, though they felt frustrated by months of restrictions, told inspectors that the certainty of unlock periods helped reduce their negative feelings

Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that although violence and self-harm had declined at the start of the pandemic, the number of incidents had later risen towards pre-pandemic levels.

“The prison did not have a cohesive strategy to tackle this. The recent reintroduction of mandatory drug tests had yielded a positive rate of 59% in the first month, which was very high. The prison was taking steps to reduce the supply of drugs, but psychosocial support for prisoners with drug and alcohol problems was very stretched.”

However, the care of those at risk of self-harm was reasonable.

Mr Taylor added:

“We noticed that relationships were good and interactions between staff and prisoners positive and, in our survey, a majority of prisoners said that most staff treated them with respect. Living conditions had improved since our last (full) inspection in 2017.”

Health services were well led with a flexible response that made sure core services were maintained throughout the pandemic. As a result, there were no significant waiting times for any clinical services, apart from dentistry.

Once education staff had resumed work in the establishment in August, they introduced a range of in-cell learning packs covering the full range of education provision, adapted in many cases to the needs of individual prisoners.

Some face-to-face classes were being held and, Mr Taylor added, a “commendable range of enrichment activities” had also been organised. Access to exercise and gyms was identified as notable positive practice.

Inspectors found that the uptake of video calls and social visits, when they were able to take place, had been low. However, all prisoners had in-cell telephones and could use them 24 hours a day, which helped them maintain family contact. Prisoners also used iPads when there were compassionate reasons for doing so, which included contacting children with learning difficulties.

Some face-to-face contact between prisoners and offender managers had been resumed, so that sentence progression could be planned. However, inspectors were concerned to find a backlog of about five months of calls waiting to be listened to, where prisoners were subject to public protection monitoring. This potentially put the public at risk.

Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“Staff and prisoners had managed well since the start of the pandemic, balancing the need for restrictions to remain COVID-19-safe with some creative adaptations, which allowed for support to be provided where needed. Positive relationships between staff and prisoners had been a strength, and the impetus to maintain decent living conditions had continued throughout the COVID-19 period. The challenge remains for the prison to understand better and tackle rising levels of violence as well as continue to implement positive practice developed during the pandemic in future recovery plans.”

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Notes to editors

1. Read the report: HMP/YOI Hindley. This report was published on 26 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 7 of the report you can read facts and history about HMP/YOI Hindley. On pages 10-11 you can read key concerns and recommendations and four examples of notable positive practice identified in this scrutiny visit.

5. This scrutiny visit took place between 8 and 15–16 December 2020.

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