HMIP Inspections of Huntercombe

The prison was given an inspection in February 2017, 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:

HMP Huntercombe, in Oxfordshire, had a long history as a young offender institution. For the last five years it has, however, been a category C prison for 480 adults, and one of only two facilities in the country retained for the sole purpose of holding convicted foreign nationals. As a prison for convicted prisoners, it differs markedly from an immigration removal centre (IRC).

We last visited Huntercombe in late 2012 when it was at the point of completing its transition to its new role, and found a good institution. At this inspection we found this remained largely the case overall, but without a specific resettlement function the prison’s purpose was limited to holding men before they were deported or moved on.

Huntercombe remained a safe prison, despite some surprisingly poor perceptions among prisoners. Levels of violence were low and despite the prevalence of self-harm, men in crisis were reasonably well cared for. Work to promote safety was generally effective and security was proportionate. Force was rarely used and the use of segregation was low.

Accommodation was clean and properly maintained, although some cells were overcrowded. Staff were confident in their roles and relationships were proactive and supportive. Work to promote equality was improving and outcomes for protected groups were reasonably good. Surprisingly for a foreign national prison there was a general lack of translated material or use of translation services to assist prisoners. This is the subject of one of our main recommendations.

Huntercombe was a purposeful prison and most prisoners had a significant amount of predictable time out of their cells. There was not enough education and work to employ everybody full time but all places were used well and allocated fairly. The quality of learning and skills and work activities was meaningful and our colleagues in Ofsted assessed the overall effectiveness as ‘good’.

The key challenge the prison faced was how it was able to assist prisoners prior to their departure or release. In the six months before our arrival just 12 men had been released into the community. Some 185 had been deported, repatriated or sent to an IRC. Many of this latter group would be subsequently deported. Prisoners often arrived without a basic custody screening and developed resettlement services were lacking, except for the interest of a small number of supportive third sector organisations. Despite some prisoners posing significant risk, offender risk management and sentence planning was under-resourced and ineffective. Public protection arrangements were reasonable, especially in relation to prisoners released in the UK, but it was unclear how risk in general was being addressed. We have made a main recommendation to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) that it clarifies Huntercombe’s role in offender management and particularly how it deals with the risks posed by those to be released or deported.

This important strategic issue aside, the managers and staff of Huntercombe should be praised for maintaining a safe, decent and purposeful institution which, in the main, treated its prisoners with respect.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM

April 2017

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Huntercombe

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