HMIP Inspections of Grendon

The prison was given an inspection in summer 2013, the full report can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said:

“Grendon is an unusual and, in many ways, unique prison. It is based on the concept that democratic therapeutic communities, run by both staff and prisoners, should be at the centre of the prison. These communities are central to the way every part of the prison operates. Prisoners are given a real say in the day-to-day running of the establishment and therefore have far more influence over their experience of prison life than at normal prisons. This all happens within the context of the usual security imperatives of a category B prison holding men who have been sentenced to indeterminate or long determinate sentences.

Men arrived at Grendon ready to be more open about their offending and related institutional behaviour and to being challenged by peers and staff within therapy and community groups. Often they had a history of serious violent offending, poor institutional behaviour and prolific self-harm. Perhaps counter-intuitively, Grendon was a more demanding environment than many more conventional prisons; the process of facing up to and being challenged about past and current behaviour and attitudes was, rightly, very tough. Some men dropped out or were required to leave and that lay behind some of the complaints about victimisation we heard. Nevertheless, despite the histories of the men it held and the process they were going through, we judged that Grendon was a very safe prison.

Entry to custody was well organised and welcoming. Violence reduction and safer custody work was good, and the communities played a central part in keeping people safe. It was important this did not lead to complacency. Experience had shown that periods of instability in the prison communities in the past had led to a breakdown in the safety they provided. Prisoners who were not in the communities and were waiting for a transfer to another prison were isolated and were therefore potentially less safe and had a poorer regime. A robust and reliable application of formal procedures would have helped to provide reassurances about safety, particularly during the period of substantial change in the communities, which was taking place at the time of the inspection. There was very little well controlled.

Prisoners could keep themselves and their living environment clean, but the night sanitation system remained undesirable, although it was more functional than at our previous inspection.

At the core of the prison were excellent staff-prisoner relationships, which had maturity and depth. Diversity was well managed and outcomes for different groups were generally equitable, but support for disabled prisoners needed considerable improvement. Health services were good and prisoners were generally happy with the quality of the food.

Time out of cell was good. Therapy was the primary purposeful and resettlement activity and accounted for a substantial part of the core day. Management of learning and skills was developing, with some advanced plans to improve the timetable. Nevertheless, the prison needed to improve learning and skills to ensure it supported therapy. Quality assurance arrangements and teaching required improvement and the prison needed to prioritise the use of education places. There were sufficient activity places, although some were of low quality. Access to the virtual campus (internet access for prisoners to community education, training and employment opportunities) and IT was insufficient.

Strategic management of resettlement was good. The prison’s therapeutic approach provided prisoners with substantial benefits, helping them to address risk factors and difficulties in coping with institutional life. Each prisoner had a thorough assessment, and targets were set during induction. Internal offender management processes and support were generally good, as was public protection, although there were concerns regarding communication. Suitable help was provided for the small number of men who were released, but the main focus of reintegration was on prisoners moving progressively to other prisons. Support to help prisoners maintain contact with their children and families was impressive.

Grendon used to be an anomaly in the prison system and its future always felt insecure. However, the new national offender personality disorder pathway identified a clear role for Grendon and other therapeutic prisons and promised much more coordinated process for allocating prisoners to the establishment and promptly moving them back to a suitable place in the main prison system once their time at Grendon was over. The benefits of the new strategy have yet to be realised but there is now the real prospect that Grendon’s value as an important national resource, working successfully with some of the system’s most serious offenders, will be fully realised. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.


Nick Hardwick

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons                       January 2014

Return to Grendon

To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:

  •  HMP Grendon, Unannounced inspection of HMP Grendon (5 – 16 August 2013)
  • HMP Grendon, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Grendon (15 – 17 August 2011)
  • HMP Grendon, Announced inspection of HMP Grendon (2-6 March 2009)