HMP Oakwood - safe prison with prisoners given trust and responsibility

Read the report: HMP Oakwood

HMP Oakwood, England’s largest prison, near Wolverhampton, was found to have a culture of respectful treatment and high expectations of prisoners.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited the prison – which holds nearly 2,100 men and is run by G4S – in May 2021. Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said Oakwood occupied a relatively small site. It had opened as a category C training prison in 2012 and had been well-maintained and still looked clean and new, though half the population shared overcrowded cells.

A large proportion of prisoners at Oakwood are serving more than four years and 10% are on indeterminate sentences. Around a quarter are convicted sex offenders and half the overall population is assessed as posing a high risk of harm to others. Despite this, Mr Taylor said, “the prison was a safe and respectful place.” Oakwood was assessed as a safe prison.

“I was consistently struck by the positive way that prisoners talked about the prison, welcoming the levels of trust that they were given and describing, with very few exceptions, a professional and supportive staff team.

“Even those who were on the basic regime, and were still subjected to protracted time locked in their cells because of COVID-19 restrictions, praised the prison. Many who had spent years moving round the secure estate told me it was the best prison they had been to.”

Prison leaders had a clear set of priorities for further development when COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted.

On a less positive note, Ofsted inspectors assessed that the performance of the education provider was disappointing. In 2020, as lockdowns were imposed, there were unnecessary delays in producing any sort of in-cell learning and there had been no face-to-face education when restrictions were lifted in the summer of that year. There were also inexplicable delays with the assessment of the learning needs of new prisoners. Mr Taylor added: “At the time of the [2021] inspection, the provider was beginning to open classrooms and workshops, but progress was slow.”

At the last inspection,  in 2018, inspectors commented on the lack of programmes to address the behaviour of sex offenders, so it was disappointing, Mr Taylor said, “to see that there was still nothing in place despite these prisoners making up a quarter of the population.” Inspectors were also concerned that the governance and practice of use of force was not good enough.

However, inspectors were impressed by an extensive network of Prisoner Led Initiatives (PLI).

“Without direct staff supervision, prisoners ran and organised a workshop that built tables, benches, bird boxes and hanging baskets that were sold to the local community. PLI were also responsible for the maintenance of the grounds and a market garden that grew food for the prison and sold plants and vegetables.”

Mr Taylor added:

“Not only had PLI been able to support the most vulnerable prisoners, but those who were leading the activities told me that it had given real meaning to their lives.”

Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“COVID-19 restrictions meant that prisoners at Oakwood were still locked in their cells for too long each day and there was not yet enough access to work or training, but if momentum is maintained, I am confident that the prison will continue to make progress when the pandemic is over. The prison has a friendly and positive atmosphere in which people are treated with respect and expectations are high. The governor and his staff are determined to maintain the levels of trust and responsibility that are given to prisoners, because they are committed to the rehabilitation of the men in their care. Staff and prisoners should be proud of what they have achieved.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP Oakwood report, published on 3 September 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. HMP Oakwood opened on 24 April 2012, as a category C men’s prison holding up to 1,605 prisoners. In 2017, it increased its capacity to 2,106.
  4. In this inspection we identified eight examples of notable positive practice.
  5. This inspection took place between 17 and 28 May 2021.
  6. Please contact John Steele at or on 07880 787452 if you would like more information.