HMYOI Werrington - children feeling unsafe in a violent environment

Read the report – HMYOI Werrington

HMYOI Werrington, a young offender institution near Stoke-on-Trent, was judged poor in both safety and purposeful activity by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Violence levels over the last six months were higher than any other establishment in England and Wales.

Children told inspectors that they carried weapons because they were not confident staff could keep them safe. During the previous 12 months, records indicated that nearly 400 weapons had been found. In the six months preceding the inspection, there had been 105 assaults among children and 82 assaults on staff – a number of these had been serious and led to the hospitalisation of 31 children. These figures represented 23 assaults for every 10 children, higher than any other prison in England and Wales.

The prison was overly reliant on ‘keep-apart’ lists, which sought to separate individuals or groups who, if allowed to mix, risked becoming violent. Inspectors found an astonishing 263 keep-aparts among a population of 66 children. Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“This ineffective and harmful arrangement was, in effect, a reactive process of risk avoidance, rather than risk management, and had come to totally dominate life in Werrington.”

The process of keeping children apart in this way had a severely detrimental effect on the provision of education. Learning was provided not on a basis of needs but according to which children could mix with one another. Many children found themselves unable to take their preferred course and instead doing those which did not engage them. The curriculum for functional skills in English and mathematics was uninspiring and too focused on learning merely to pass the exam.

Although provision of care had dropped from ‘good’ to ‘reasonably good’, inspectors found some encouraging signs. Health services were child centred and there was evidence of learning and change following incidents and audits. Inspectors were pleased to see innovative practice towards sexual health; individuals were screened after 14 days, ensuring that for new arrivals the long-term effects of unrecognised and untreated disease at reception were minimised.

Overall, however, this was a disappointing visit. Mr Taylor said:

“We were left with the sense that Werrington had lost its way and needed to rediscover a sense of purpose.”

He added:

“The governor had set out a series of priorities for the establishment, but it was clear to us that more needed to be done to ensure staff were fully committed to these priorities and that plans were delivered.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMYOI Werrington report, published 20 May 2022.
  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. Werrington started life in 1895 as an industrial school and was subsequently purchased by the Prison Commissioners in 1955. It converted to a youth custody centre in 1985 and in 1988 it became a young people’s centre. It currently holds sentenced and remanded children aged 15 to 17 years.
  4. At the time of this inspection, the establishment held 64 children.
  5. Inspectors identified five examples of notable positive practice.
  6. This inspection took place on 24 January and 31 January – 4 February 2022.
  7. Please contact Ed Owen at ed.owen1@hmiprisons.gov.uk if you would like more information.