HMIP Reports, HMP & YOI Peterborough (Female)

The prison was given an inspection in the summer of 2014.The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said

“HMP and YOI Peterborough is a unique prison in England and Wales as it is the only prison which holds both men and women on a single site. While this could have resulted in compromises that led to the needs of the smaller female population being subsumed by those of the larger male one, in this inspection of the female side, we once again found that this was generally not the case. However, the 318 women held presented a wide and complex range of needs, and this was a challenge to manage.

About one in four of the women were unsentenced and about one in six were serving sentences of six months or less. At the other end of the scale, the prison held 30 women serving indeterminate sentences for public protection or life sentences, and there were women in the prison serving every sort of sentence length in between. The women ranged in age from 18 to 70, 15% were foreign nationals, and about half told us they had children under the age of 18. Forty-four per cent had a problem with drugs when they arrived at the prison and 26% had a problem with alcohol. The number of disabled women, and those in prison for the first time, had significantly increased since the last inspection, and over half of the women in our survey reported having an emotional wellbeing or mental health problem, significantly more than at similar prisons or at the time of our last inspection. Nearly a third of women arrived feeling depressed or suicidal, and three-quarters reported having a problem of some sort on arrival. The vulnerability of this population mix was sharply and sadly brought home a month before the inspection with the self-inflicted death of a mentally ill woman who had been remanded in custody on a minor charge and died in segregation. It was therefore an achievement that the prison was generally safe for most women held.

Women reported negatively about courts and escorts. This was not surprising, as in common with other women’s prisons they often had long waits in court cells and on vans before disembarkation at the prison, as the men were dealt with first. Women complained about verbal bullying from male prisoners being transported in the same vans as them and more than the comparator said they felt unsafe. The experience of the prison reception was reasonable, but despite the good use of peer mentors, more could have been done to reassure new arrivals. First night and early day’s arrangements were good and efforts were made to settle women into the prison routine.

Most women felt safe and the atmosphere was calm and reassuringly low key. This was greatly helped by the design of the small units which facilitated a community feel to the living environment. Relationships between staff and prisoners were mainly respectful and strong which helped women feel safe. Nevertheless, more women than at the last inspection reported feeling victimised by other prisoners and by staff. The proportion of female staff was too low. Some elements of security were overly risk adverse, and use of strip-searching was greater than we have seen elsewhere in women’s prisons. The governance of this and of the use of force needed to be improved to provide reassurance that interventions to manage behaviour were proportionate. In addition, while treatment of the women who were segregated was good, the numbers were high, and some very vulnerable women were being held there without the exceptional reasons to justify this. Some good support was offered to women who were vulnerable, but there was no specialist provision for those with a combination of complex needs and challenging behaviour. The purpose of the inpatient unit, where some women with mental health problems were held, was unclear and we thought many of these women ended up in the segregation unit for the want of a suitable alternative.

The general environment was very good, and outside areas were particularly attractive. There was a good focus on diversity issues and most outcomes in this regard were decent, although in our survey disabled and gay prisoners reported less favourably. The prison had been designated as a foreign national prisoner hub for women, and while this was still in its infancy, we were concerned that some women reported being compelled to transfer to the prison, even if this took them further away from families and friends. Nevertheless, support for foreign nationals was better than we see in many other prisons. Some of the young women we spoke to complained of being bored. Support for pregnant women and mothers and babies was particularly good, although as is often the case, we were again concerned to see the mother and baby unit under-utilised. It is difficult to believe that the skilled staff in the unit could not have provided valuable support to more mothers if the unit could have been used in a more flexible way. Health care provision was mixed. While access to health care professionals was good, and most care appropriate, some elements of clinical management needed to be improved.

Time out of cell was good, although access to the outside areas during exercise was too limited. Some good progress had been made in developing the learning and skills provision offered, but too many women were engaged in mundane and meaningless wing-based work, and not all opportunities to accredit the more challenging work activities offered were taken. There was too little focus on activities to develop confidence and self-esteem, and achievements, particularly in key areas of English, mathematics, and English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) were not good enough. These are key areas in preparing women for progression into higher level vocational qualifications and meaningful preparation for work on release, so are central to the rehabilitation process.

This was in contrast to the excellent resettlement services being offered. The Link, Outside Links and connection peer workers provided innovative support to women arriving at the prison in the form of custody planning; continuing support with resettlement services and critically, practical and grounded support on release. It provided a through the gate model of resettlement support which could be emulated by other local prisons. Support for women to maintain contact with their family and friends were very good, as was the specific provision for women who were vulnerable on release, including those who had been trafficked or abused. Resettlement work more generally was good, as were the offender management arrangements in place for more serious offenders.

Overall, Peterborough manages the women it holds well. The resettlement model at Peterborough is successful and could be copied by other prisons. The environment and good relationships between staff and prisoners create a safe prison, although a higher proportion of female staff is needed. It is let down by the poor quantity and quality of the activity it offers which, while improving, is still not good enough. Some security measures, such as the amount of strip-searching, are heavy handed and better provision is needed for the most complex and vulnerable women. 

Nick Hardwick                       October 2014

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Peterborough 

The full reports can be found by following the links below to the Ministry of Justice web site: