HMIP Inspections of Spring Hill

The prison was given an inspection in summer 2014, 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 Springhill is an open prison in Buckinghamshire holding category D prisoners, many of whom are nearing the end of long sentences for serious offences. Fundamental to the prison’s purpose is the resettlement of these prisoners into society, and a key tool in that endeavour is the managed use of release on temporary licence (ROTL). This was our first full inspection for four years, although during a brief visit in 2012 we commented on a prison that was making progress against our recommendations. This inspection found a prison that was still doing good work but was struggling to sustain aspects of its core resettlement function following the appalling conduct of one individual whom the prison had released on temporary licence.

In July 2013, Ian McLoughlin was released from Springhill on temporary licence and, while away from the prison, went on to murder Mr Graham Buck, a member of the public. This incident, along with two others where men on release from open prisons committed, or are alleged to have committed, violent crimes during their release, rightly caused significant public concern about the ROTL system. I have reported separately to the Justice Secretary on these incidents and that report will be published once the trial of one of the men involved has concluded. ROTL is a vital tool in the successful rehabilitation of prisoners and failures are rare. However, the consequences when failures do occur can be extremely serious and so the ROTL process needs to be managed with the greatest care.

Springhill had responded to these dreadful events and reviewed its arrangements, leading to important and necessary procedural changes in the way prisoners were assessed and managed prior to ROTL. These procedures were now more robust, resource intensive and inevitably took longer. The safety of the public must come first but the delays caused frustration among prisoners that was apparent throughout our inspection and had the potential to undermine the wellbeing and work of the prison. Despite this, the prison had still managed to deliver 14,000 individual ROTL events in the previous six months, which was vital in allowing prisoners who were soon to be released the opportunity to reconnect with their families or to become used to real work. However, we were not assured that the Governor and his staff had the resources to sustain these changes while continuing to deliver the prison’s core resettlement function. This was a matter that required urgent attention.

Most staff, and in particular specialist and non-uniformed staff, treated prisoners well, but a feature of the frustration felt by prisoners was the pervasive view that other staff were indifferent to the anxieties, questions and needs they had as their sentences neared their end. During our inspection we saw some evidence to support this. Many prisoners felt there was no one they could turn to for help and inspectors were bombarded with concerns from prisoners about their frustrations and what they perceived as veiled threats to return prisoners to closed conditions without good reason.

Prisoners were unlocked all day and there were sufficient recorded activity places but not all activity was meaningful and some prisoners were clearly under employed. We found insufficient attention was given to helping prisoners develop genuine employability skills, and the strategy for planning purposeful activity or evaluating its impact on the resettlement of prisoners required improvement. It was disappointing that despite some innovative education and training projects, and good links with external partners, there were limited training opportunities in the prison and the community, which led to potential employment opportunities for prisoners. Prisoners working in the prison or on external placements received only limited feedback about the quality of their work, and prisoner attendance at education and training sessions was not prioritised sufficiently and was too often interrupted.

Springhill was tackling many problems but it continued to be a fundamentally safe prison. Levels of assaults were low, even by comparison to other open prisons, with little demand placed upon some robust systems to confront violence and bullying. Similarly, prisoners at risk of self-harm were rare, although sadly there had been one recent self-inflicted death. Despite this, in our survey of prisoners, perceptions of safety were more negative than at other open prisons, which we believed to be another manifestation of the level of general discontent and anxiety among the prisoner population.

The prison itself was generally clean and the grounds were open and well maintained, but much of the accommodation was poor. Older units were cramped, showers were insufficiently maintained and the impact of this was mitigated only by the fact that prisoners were able to spend so much time out of the units. However, newer units were much better and the plans to introduce an indoor communal association area were welcome. Diversity and equality were well promoted and the range of cultural events to celebrate diversity was impressive, although a number of key facilities were not easily accessible by prisoners with physical disabilities.

Prisoners were positive about health care services and provision was, overall, very good. Food at the prison was generally appreciated by prisoners and the quality and quantity were good.

Springhill was still dealing with a disastrous set of circumstances that had struck at its central purpose. The prison was, however, well led and while the prison was clearly under pressure, staff were responding positively to the challenges they faced. Key staff were working hard to ensure that more robust systems for the assessment of prisoners were in place, and that there were arrangements for ROTL that could command public confidence. However, getting this right was difficult; relationships were being impacted and staff in some roles were very stretched. The safe resettlement of offenders at the conclusion of their sentences matters, and this work needs to be resourced sufficiently and be done properly.


Nick Hardwick                       September 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Spring Hill

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


  • HMP Springhill, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Springhill (6 – 15 May 2014)
  • HMP Springhill, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP Spring Hill (5 – 7 March 2012)
  • HMP Springhill, Announced inspection of HMP Spring Hill (11-14 August 2008)