HMP Woodhill - staffing crisis hinders progress

Read the report: HMP Woodhill independent review of progress

Inspectors returning to HMP Woodhill found an establishment struggling to make progress due to severe staffing shortages. The staffing position was no better than it had been at the time of the inspection in 2021, with as many staff leaving the prison as joining. Inspectors were concerned that the staff shortages, inexperience and high turnover were limiting what the jail could achieve and were negatively affecting outcomes for prisoners.

In 2021, the category B training prison – which also holds category A remand prisoners and operates several specialist units, making it a high-risk and complex jail – was deemed unsafe and incapable of providing its population with a purposeful regime. Inspectors returned to the Milton Keynes jail in June 2022 for an independent review of progress (IRP) and followed up eight recommendations, finding insufficient progress in four. Ofsted followed up on three themes, judging progress to be reasonable in two and insufficient in one.

Commenting on the findings, Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said:

“In most areas, leaders and managers demonstrated a will and desire to improve outcomes for prisoners, and also for staff. Much of their effort was, however, thwarted by staff shortages.”

Time out of cell was not good enough at around 2.5 hours a day for the many unemployed and underemployed prisoners. Workshops and classes were not operating to capacity, and colleagues at Ofsted found limited participation in education, skills, and classes. However, the jail had made progress in its identification of individual learning needs through an initial assessment, induction pack, and learning difficulties and disabilities ‘screener’ on arrival.

Some progress had been made to reduce violence and self-harm levels, and it was promising that data indicated that self-harm was now on a downward trajectory. Staff were receiving training across a range of safety procedures, and safety leadership were using data more effectively to understand the causes of violence and self-harm. However, levels remained too high against comparator prisons.

The staffing crisis was the single most limiting factor to progress at Woodhill. Mr Taylor acknowledged the challenge of recruitment, stating:

“The scale of the task is huge, but I would strongly urge leaders to continue in their quest to find creative and practical solutions to make Woodhill an attractive employer. Without continued vigour, it is inevitable that outcomes for the prison and the public will deteriorate even further.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. Read the HMP Woodhill independent review of progress, published on 14 July 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. HMP Woodhill is a relatively modern category B prison in Milton Keynes, which also holds category A remand prisoners and operates several specialist units. Inspectors only visited the category B training site for this IRP and the 2021 inspection. The specialist sites were inspected separately.
  4. Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) began in April 2019. They were developed because Ministers wanted an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning prison inspections. IRPs are not inspections and do not result in new judgements against our healthy prison tests. Rather they judge progress being made against the key recommendations made at the previous inspection. The visits are announced and happen eight to 12 months after the original inspection. They last two and a half days and involve a comparatively small team. Reports are published within 25 working days of the end of the visit. We conduct 15 to 20 IRPs each year. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons selects sites for IRPs based on previous healthy prison test assessments and a range of other factors.
  5. At this Woodhill IRP we followed up eight of the recommendations from our recent inspection and Ofsted followed up three themes. HM Inspectorate of Prisons judged that there was reasonable progress in four recommendations and insufficient progress in four. Ofsted found reasonable progress in two themes and insufficient progress in one.
  6. A report on the most recent full inspection of HMP Woodhill is available on our website, as is the accompanying media release.
  7. This IRP visit at HMP Woodhill took place between 6 and 8 June 2022.
  8. Please contact Ed Owen at if you would like more information.