HMIP Inspection of Aylesbury

The prison was given an inspection in spring 2015, 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:

“HMYOI Aylesbury is a young offender institution holding up to 444 young adult men, and is designated as a training prison. It is a challenging prison to run not least because it holds young men serving among the longest sentences for this age group in the country. Over 80% of those held are serving in excess of four years and 30% are serving more than 10 years to life. Had they been a little older at the time of sentence, it is arguable that many Aylesbury prisoners would have found themselves allocated to a high security prison with the additional resources and better supervision that would entail.

The risks the prison manages are significant. This inspection took place at a difficult time for the prison, with debilitating staff shortages that required the ongoing deployment of temporary staff from other establishments. Our overall judgement was that the prison had deteriorated, with failings evident across all four of our healthy prison tests, but particularly in safety, respect and purposeful activity.

Aylesbury was not safe enough. In our survey half of all respondents reported feeling unsafe at some point during their stay and just under a quarter felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. Levels of violence were high and some incidents were serious. Some useful work was being done to address gang affiliations and to introduce new initiatives aimed at combating violence, but much more needed to be done to ensure a coherent evidence-based strategy that would be effective. Many of those suspected of involvement in violence were managed through an excessively punitive incentives and earned privileges scheme which, in our view, lacked legitimacy and was regularly ineffective. In addition to the more predictable causes of violence, the long periods of lock up and inactivity most prisoners experienced caused frustrations that contributed to the likelihood of violence and aggression.

As well as violence, other indicators such as the use of formal disciplinary procedures, cellular confinement, use of force and segregation were also high, although generally procedures and accountability concerning these responses were satisfactory. The segregation unit environment and regime however, were poor. Security was managed adequately, although the proportionality of some aspects required review and wing supervision was sometimes not good enough. Intelligence was managed well but drug usage was double the target. Many prisoners thought it was easy to get drugs in the prison and there was evidence of the availability of undetectable synthetic drugs. Security was not well integrated with drug services in the prison.

The number of prisoners who had self-harmed was high and worse than in similar prisons, although arrangements to case manage and oversee the monitoring of those in crisis was reasonable. However, too many prisoners were left isolated in cell without activity or in segregation without adequate consideration of their circumstances. Despite this, some prisoners in crisis spoke highly of the care staff provided.

The quality of the environment was mixed and too often inadequate. Cleanliness required improvement and some cells were also overcrowded. Access to amenities and facilities such as cell equipment, showers or cleaning materials was not good enough. The quality of relationships between staff and prisoners was similarly mixed. We saw some good engagement but the numbers of temporary staff was inevitably undermining the quality and usefulness of relationships. It was telling that only 61% of prisoners thought there was a member of staff they could turn to if they had a problem, which was much worse than comparable prisons. The promotion of equality had improved through, for example, the better identification of those with protected characteristics, the appointment of an equalities officer and the work of prisoner diversity representatives. However, many weaknesses were still evident.

Faith provision was very good and the high profile and well-led chaplaincy was a strength of the prison. Prisoners had little confidence in the prison’s complaints system, but health outcomes were reasonably good. Prisoners expressed very positive views about the quality of the food, although in our view the timing of food, the way food was served, and cleanliness at the serving of meals all required improvement.

Perhaps Aylesbury’s greatest failing remained its inability to provide a meaningful training regime. As at the last inspection, we graded the provision of purposeful activity as ‘poor’, and colleagues in Ofsted judged the overall effectiveness of learning, skills and work provision as ‘inadequate’. During the inspection we found between 30 and 40% of young prisoners locked up during the working day, which was representative of restrictive and punitive unlock arrangements. In a training prison context this was completely inadequate. A quarter of prisoners were registered unemployed and only a third of the remainder were in full-time activity. The management of learning and skills was weak, many classes and workshops were closed owing to staff shortages, and punctuality was poor. Learners made some progress in vocational classes but the education curriculum was narrow, the quality of teaching needed improvement, and achievements in English and mathematics were not good enough.

The prisons’ work to reduce reoffending and support resettlement was one of the better features of the prison, although here too deterioration was evident. Staff shortages were undermining offender management with heavy caseloads, a backlog of offender risk assessments and some quite limited sentence planning. In the context of Aylesbury’s high-risk population these were shortcomings that needed to be put right. Public protection work was generally better and the few prisoners the prison discharged were well supported, but this seemed to happen in spite of the newly introduced ‘through the gate’ resettlement service. Work across the resettlement pathways evidenced some good outcomes, although domestic visitors needed to be welcomed more respectfully. Offending behaviour work was impressive with some new innovative and encouraging initiatives being introduced.

The population at Aylesbury presented risks but it was reasonably stable. The purpose and function of the prison was clear but the prison was uncertain about how to set about delivering its core functions in a coherent and joined up way. For example, there was some good work taking place to address violence but this was undermined by poor data, or by a very poor regime that fostered inactivity and indolence. The prison held long-term prisoners and yet many practices were punitive and regressive. Trust was too limited and relationships unpredictable. There was too little to motivate young men, or to encourage their personal investment in their futures while at the prison. Staffing shortages were a chronic weakness but it was hard to see how HMYOI Aylesbury could progress until there was a fundamental improvement in the quality of learning, skills and work offered.


Nick Hardwick September 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Aylesbury

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