HMP Hull - deteriorating outcomes for prisoners but prison capable of improvement

Read the report: HMP Hull

Standards at HMP Hull – a large and overcrowded inner-city men’s prison – were found to have declined over three years, though inspectors who visited in July 2021 assessed that it remained a capable prison with the potential to address its weaknesses.

The prison held just under 1,000 prisoners – a mix of those on remand or convicted in local courts and another group consisting mostly of convicted sex offenders. Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“A complex, interesting and challenging institution, Hull is a prison about which we have been able to report positively at recent inspections. At our last visit in 2018, for example, we found that outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against all four tests of a healthy prison.

“Findings at this inspection have been more disappointing, with evidence of significant shortcomings and deterioration in all four of our assessments.”

All four tests fell to ‘not sufficiently good.’

Hull had been impacted quite significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic and had dealt with more than one outbreak. There was a period of transition with the recent arrival of a new governor, as well as other changes to the senior management team. Despite this, Mr Taylor said, “the prison seemed to have retained some core strengths and generally remained a capable institution. Staff were experienced and prisoners appeared to have considerable confidence in them.”

However, there were some significant concerns for inspectors:

  • The  prison’s safety assessment score had fallen from 2018. Though violence was lower than in comparable prisons, there had been eight self-inflicted deaths, and two from non-natural causes, since the last inspection. Inspectors were concerned that there was insufficient focus on achieving recommendations following investigations into deaths by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), particularly those relating to health care. There was evidence, though, that staff were more alert to signs of distress in new prisoners.
  • Some use of force by staff was not proportionate or safe.
  • Time out of cell was “very poor”, with most prisoners allowed out for only an hour a day. Those isolating for COVID-19 reasons did not get into the open air for 10 days and could only shower after seven days. Prisoners said cells had been “intolerable” in the summer heat.
  • Health care was “failing badly”, with long waits to see a GP and for other services.
  • At the time of the inspection, there was no resettlement planning for high risk of harm prisoners.

Mr Taylor said:

“Our sense was that this was a time of potential and opportunity for the prison. Hull was beginning to work towards recovery as it emerged from the restrictions of the pandemic and the governor was in the process of refining his priorities.

“We were told this included better meeting the needs of short sentence prisoners, staff training, operational grip and safety. As priorities they were reasonable, but there was a need for more substance and clarity in the establishment’s plans.

“It was clear to us that current oversight arrangements and structures lacked rigour and accountability and we identified the need for improvement in several specific areas of delivery, including segregation arrangements, safer custody and the use of force. Other priorities included offender management and public protection procedures, both of which required improvement; greater ambition in improving access to activity and time out of cell; and getting a much better hold on the delivery of decent health care, an area that was failing badly.”

Overall, Mr Taylor said:

“Standards and outcomes have slipped at Hull. The situation, however, seems eminently retrievable, subject to some meaningful planning which focuses on improved outcomes and is supported by rigorous oversight to ensure delivery, compliance and accountability.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP Hull report, published on 2 November 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 Hull is a Victorian prison which opened in 1870 to hold men and women. In 1939 it was used as a military prison and later a civil defence depot. In 1950 it reopened as a closed male borstal. In 1969, after extensive security work, Hull became one of the first maximum security dispersal prisons. In 1986, Hull assumed its current role as a male local prison and remand centre. In 2002 the prison expanded with four new wings, new health care centre, new sports hall and multi-faith centre and refurbishment to other parts of the prison, including the kitchen, education and workshops.
  4. Inspectors identified three examples of notable positive practice at HMP Hull.
  5. This inspection took place between 12–13 and 26–30 July 2021.
  6. Please contact John Steele at or on 07880 787452 if you would like more information.