HMIP Inspections of HMP & YOI Low Newton

The prison was given an inspection in February 2018, 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 & YOI Low Newton is a women’s local resettlement prison in the north east of England. The population held there at the time of this inspection was immensely complex, ranging from those remanded by the courts across a huge geographical area to women serving very long, often indeterminate sentences. Within this mix was a small number of young adults and foreign nationals, and many women with significant histories of substance misuse, self-harm and mental health problems. Nearly all the women held said they had arrived at the prison with problems, and over 40% of the population at the time of the inspection were receiving opiate substitution treatment. The prison was also one of only two in England that held restricted status prisoners (any female, young person or young adult prisoner convicted or on remand whose escape would present a serious risk to the public and who is required to be held in designated secure accommodation). At our last inspection in October 2014, we commented on the complexity of the population and were impressed with what we considered to be a humane and caring approach to managing the women. At this inspection, we were again struck by the skilled and motivated management and staff and by how they carried out their duties in a decent, caring and, when necessary, firm way to keep women safe, and the prison purposeful.

The prison faced a series of new challenges that were not evident when we last visited. It was more crowded, violence had increased, particularly women assaulting other prisoners. The misuse of Buscopan and other substances was more pronounced. It was likely that the smoking ban had contributed to the problematic use of illicit drugs, bullying and assaults. The prison was working hard to address these issues, and while many women reported that they had felt unsafe at some time, and that they had been victimised, they also told us that the prison was still basically safe. Shutting off the supply of problematic illicit substances entering the prison was a major challenge, and the lack of technology to assist with the problem impeded the prison’s ability to do so. We therefore think that HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should, as a matter of priority, provide Low Newton with body-scanning technology to assist in keeping harmful contraband out of the jail.

Many women at the prison had a long history of self-harm, and 77% told us in our survey that they had mental health problems. Care for vulnerable women was excellent and staff knew about the detailed circumstances of those in their care who had complex needs, and every effort was made to provide them with the support they needed. Primary and mental health care were good, but there were gaps, particularly in the provision of counselling and in arranging timely moves to secure hospital beds when needed. We remained concerned that courts were inappropriately using the prison as a place of safety for some women with more severe and acute mental health problems.

An increase in the population meant that more women than previously were now living in overcrowded cells designed for one person, but being used to hold two. The prison buildings were, in parts, somewhat shabby and rather claustrophobic, but they were nevertheless clean and decent. Women received day-to-day basics, and they were consulted well. Staff-prisoner relationships were very strong and formed the basis of what was good about the prison. There was a much better focus on equality and diversity than we usually see, and some excellent support was being provided to those with protected characteristics. Excellent support was also provided to pregnant women, and faith support was very good.

Time out of cell was good and delivered reliably. All women were offered full-time activities, and many participated and progressed well. Ofsted rated the leadership and management of activities as outstanding, and overall assessed learning, skills and work activities as good. There was a particularly impressive focus on providing women with opportunities to improve their personal and social skills and self-confidence. Some aspects of teaching and learning needed further improvement, as did the range of opportunities offered, but we considered outcomes in purposeful activity good overall.

Children and families work remained good. Resettlement and offender management and offending behaviour support were good, particularly for higher-risk women. Public protection arrangements were also robust, and through-the-gate support was generally good. Offender management work with low- and medium-risk women needed improvement, as did the coordination of pre-release and through-the-gate support. Support for women who had experienced domestic abuse also needed further attention.

In conclusion, Low Newton remained an excellent women’s prison where leaders and staff understood and managed the complex mix of risks and needs well. Some robust action was being taken to address the use of illicit drugs and associated violence and bullying, and staff were skilled in challenging poor behaviour when it occurred. They also provided excellent care when needed, which many women told us they appreciated. The regime was purposeful, and the generally good resettlement provision supported efforts to rehabilitate the women. We commend the work of the governor and her team at Low Newton, as it provides the prisoners, their families and the public with the reassurance that the fundamental aims of the establishment are being achieved.

Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
March 2018
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

Return to Low Newton

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

  • HMP & YOI Low Newton (998.10 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Low Newton (12–22 February 2018)
  • HMP & YOI Low Newton, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Low Newton (29 September – 10 October 2014).
  • HMP Low Newton, Announced inspection of HMP Low Newton (31 October – 4 November 2011)
  • HMP/YOI Low Newton, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP/YOI Low Newton (20-23 April 2009)