The prison was given an inspection in early summer 2019, 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:
“This report records our first inspection of HMP Berwyn. Located near Wrexham in North Wales, Berwyn opened in 2017. It is the first prison to open under the management of the public sector for several years and will be the largest prison in the country. Designated a category C training prison, the establishment held 1,273 prisoners at the time of the inspection. They were held in three residential units, which in turn were subdivided in to a total of eight communities. In time the prison will be able to hold 2,106 prisoners, although we were told that currently numbers are capped to allow for the build up of staff as well as additional activity for prisoners.
Opening a new prison is a big challenge especially when that process is the subject, quite rightly, of significant public interest. The challenges can be practical, but they can also be cultural. The prison opened with a very clear rehabilitative vision which has faced resistance at times. The leadership team are still working hard to find and maintain the right balance between rehabilitation and security, freedom and control, and sanctions and reward. As this report will show, some mistakes have been made and we identify some important weaknesses, but we also acknowledge the great effort that has been made to give this prison a good start. The prison is generally ordered and settled, and when measured against our tests of a healthy prison we found Berwyn to be a reasonably respectful place. Against our other tests there was more to do.
Despite Berwyn being a Welsh prison, about 75% of those held were from England. Arrangements for the reception and induction of new arrivals were impressive and the clear majority felt safe on their first night. Our survey, however, revealed that about 23% of prisoners felt unsafe at the time we asked them; a figure comparable with other training prisons. Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were lower than expected, but in contrast, prisoner on staff assaults were higher. Both measures seemed to be on a downward trajectory. Some work was being done to reduce violence. However, other than an interesting initiative on Glyndwr community aimed at supporting some challenging prisoners, delivery often lacked drive and needed to be implemented more effectively. We found, for example, 25 self-isolating prisoners who were completely unsupported. Schemes to incentivise good behaviour were similarly ineffective.
Use of force was higher than in similar prisons and incidents usually involved the full application of restraints. Oversight was satisfactory and new strategies to minimise the need for force were being developed. The environment and quality of supervision in the segregation unit was generally good, but the regime was limited. Security arrangements were proportionate and supported by good police liaison. Drugs had been too readily available, but actions by the prison to reduce drugs supply seemed to have had some impact, and the drug testing rate had reduced to 21.49%. This was, however, still too high and supply reduction initiatives required greater coordination and drive. There had been no self-inflicted deaths since the prison opened and self-harm was comparatively low, but arrangements to support and safeguard those who were vulnerable were not very good. Strategic leadership was weak, case management of those in crisis needed improvement and those at risk we spoke to did not feel well cared for.
Most staff at Berwyn were inexperienced but those we observed were doing their best and contributing to a relaxed and positive atmosphere. Many prisoners felt frustrated by staff inconsistency and uncertainty. We also observed some poor behaviour go unchallenged. The prison had, however, recognised the need to support staff with their attention to the basics of prisoner management. Formal consultation with prisoners, prisoner applications and formal complaints were delivered with similar inconsistency and reflected the staff’s inexperience.
Except for poor toilet screens in double cells, the quality of accommodation and the general environment were very good. In-cell showers, telephones and access to amenities and equipment were all very positive. The prison had been successful in its aim to make such a large prison feel small. There was a real sense of community in most of the wings, and staff teams and prisoners spoke of their ‘community’ rather than their ‘wing’. The promotion of diversity and equality in contrast was poor, although health care provision was good overall.
Employed prisoners had reasonable time out of cell, but it was much worse for those without employment, who had about two and a half hours per day. During spot checks we found 28% of prisoners locked up during the working day, which for a new training prison was very disappointing. Routines were rarely curtailed, but often delayed, and not all staff and prisoners understood fully the requirements of the daily schedule or regime.
One of the greatest challenges facing the prison was the lack of activity places. It is difficult to understand how and why the procurement of work and training places for a new prison could be so delayed. Facing a rising population and too few activity places, prison managers had created a range of activities and there were sufficient places for the current population, but some were of inadequate quality and lacked challenge. Even those that were available were not fully used. Many prisoners were unemployed or failed to attend, and staff did too little to support a sound work ethic. In contrast, those attending education or vocational training generally received excellent teaching, made useful progress and achieved well. Our partners in Estyn assessed provision to be ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in four of their measures and ‘adequate and requiring improvement’ in just leadership and management.
The prison was struggling to develop its approach to offender management and resettlement. The make up of the population was not as had been originally envisaged; there had been no assessment of the current need. Many prisoners were serving long sentences, presented a high risk of harm and too many prisoners did not have an up-to-date assessment of risk (OASys). Offender management caseloads were too high and case management was inconsistent and reactive. Public protection measures were similarly weak and the prison lacked sufficient offending behaviour interventions to meet the needs of the population. Work to resettle prisoners was better, but about half of those currently being released returned to England. At the time of the inspection resettlement support for these prisoners was due to end in April which was a concern.
At this inspection we met many managers and staff who were working hard to make a success of this new prison. Senior managers described themselves as ‘being on a journey’ and we saw lots of work, many policies and numerous plans. What was needed was better oversight, better coordination and more sustained delivery. The staff seemed to us to be a strength of the prison, but they needed support in delivering the basics consistently. We thought the prison had made a good start. We were impressed by the energy and optimism we observed and there was clearly the potential to move on rapidly. We hope that our encouragement to focus on the basics and the few recommendations we make will assist that process, and guide Berwyn to becoming an enduringly safe and rehabilitative prison.
Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM May 2019
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:
HMP Berwyn (869.04 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Berwyn (4-14 March 2019)