HMP Featherstone, Inspections

The prison was given a full inspection in autumn 2016. The inspectors said:

“HMP Featherstone is a male category C training and resettlement prison situated near Wolverhampton. It holds around 650 men and was last inspected in October 2013. At that time our report was generally positive, with the highest assessment being made in two of our four healthy prison tests. My predecessor as  Chief Inspector said: ‘HMP Featherstone was a very positive establishment. It did very well what other prisons sometimes find difficult – the more intangible qualities of culture, relationships and leadership.’

On this occasion I have to report that since 2013 there has been a shocking  worsening in standards at HMP Featherstone. Across three of the areas on which we report there has been a sharp decline, and only in the area of resettlement has the assessment we made held steady at ‘not sufficiently good’. The decline was particularly concerning in the area of safety, which we now assess as ‘poor’.

In response to our survey of prisoners, 37% said that they felt unsafe, more than double the number in 2013 when the figure stood at 15%. Perhaps this is hardly surprising given that a very high 63% said it was easy to get drugs and 22% said they had developed a drug problem while in the prison. Given the well-known destabilising influence which a high level of drug availability has in prisons, with the associated debt and bullying feeding a cycle of violence, perhaps we should not be surprised at the serious decline in the safety of the men held at Featherstone. One of the symptoms of the lack of safety was the number of men who chose to self-isolate in an attempt to escape the violence. For a clear description of what this means in reality, I would invite the reader to turn to paragraph 1.16.

The backdrop to the decline at Featherstone was clear evidence of poor industrial relations, staff shortages and some significant prisoner unrest. For example, during the summer the segregation unit was seriously damaged by prisoners and at the time of the inspection was still not able to be used. The temporary segregation unit was also in a very poor condition and not properly staffed. More generally, inspectors saw staff refusing to let prisoners onto the house blocks, thereby leaving them wandering around the corridors, because they did not consider there were enough staff on the house blocks to have prisoners unlocked safely. Inspectors were not confident that all incidents of prisoner unrest were being reported. During the inspection an incident of concerted indiscipline was not reported until this was challenged by inspectors.

The prison was in a poor state of repair, not helped by what appeared to be a failing facilities management contract. The showers on the house blocks were in a disgraceful condition, but there was no plan in place to refurbish them in what  could be considered reasonable timescales.

Staff and prisoners were, somewhat unusually, outspoken about what they perceived to be a lack of leadership and direction in the prison. It was certainly the case that the senior leadership team did not have sufficient knowledge or oversight of some key areas. For instance, the management and monitoring of the use of force had deteriorated, and given the high levels of the use of force in the prison, it was extraordinary that the use of force committee had not met for at least four months. The senior team also had insufficient grip or knowledge around issues such as the unregulated segregation of self-isolators and the lack of outdoor exercise that was being afforded to prisoners. In too many key areas, such as drug supply, there was insufficient analysis of the problems or development of proactive strategies to address them.

At the last inspection we made 68 recommendations, of which we found on this occasion a mere 16 had been achieved. In the area of safety, where we made 20 recommendations, just two had been achieved. Perhaps it is not surprising that HMP Featherstone has declined so quickly and so sharply. If  the prison is to once again become a safe and decent place which can fulfil its role as a training andresettlement prison, there needs to be dynamic, visible leadership which gets to grips with the serious issues identified in this report.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

January  2017                                                                               

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

To read the full report go to the Ministry of justice web site or follow the links below:

This section contains the reports for Featherstone from 2000 until present

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