HMIP Reports on HMP Erlestoke

The prison was given an inspection in August 2021 following the troubling inspection a year earlier.  In their latest report the inspectors said:

“HMP Erlestoke is a category C training and resettlement prison near Devizes in Wiltshire. Holding just over 440 adult men the prison fulfils an important function with most prisoners serving long sentences of over four years and nearly two[1]thirds assessed as high or very high risk of harm to others. About a third of the population were serving indeterminate sentences – including 80 prisoners serving life – and the prison also held young adults. Part of the establishment’s remit was to provide a national resource for offending behaviour programmes.

The prison itself was a campus-style establishment with different accommodation types set in the grounds of a former country house. The prison held a challenging but generally stable population but had many advantages, not least its clarity of purpose and a group of prisoners who knew they would need to engage fully with their sentence objectives and the regime of the prison if they were to progress. In this context, our findings at Erlestoke were disappointing. When we last inspected in 2017, we assessed outcomes for prisoners as not sufficiently good against our healthy prison tests of safety, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning. Only in the healthy prison area of respect were outcomes reasonably good. Similarly, our findings from a scrutiny visit to the prison a year ago, at the height of the pandemic, were so concerning that my predecessor raised his concerns directly with the Secretary of State. A deterioration in safety, poor living conditions and a lack of purposeful relationships between staff and prisoners were among the serious issues identified. At this inspection we found little improvement, and respect had deteriorated to the extent that it too was now not sufficiently good.

The prison had undoubtedly been impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks in addition to the general restrictions imposed by the pandemic, but it was clear that prisoners were becoming increasingly frustrated at what they perceived to be a growing divergence between their experience and the general easing of restrictions in the community. Some restrictions in the prison were applied inconsistently and the prison leadership needed to be more ambitious about the pace for opening up the regime safely – which might have overcome the sense of aimlessness that we observed. This frustration among prisoners was linked to some concerning outcomes, for example increasing violence and high levels of self-harm. Basic standards were not upheld and opportunities were missed. Examples included: limited reception and induction arrangements and a lack of motivational and rehabilitative culture; both were opportunities that could have been used to encourage and connect constructively with longer-term prisoners. Leaders were not visible, oversight arrangements lacked rigour and priorities were not communicated. Forums for the oversight of operational practice were often poorly attended and the leaders did not use data effectively to inform decision making. In a survey we undertook, staff (many of whom were inexperienced) told us that their well-being was not supported, and that morale was low. A clear agenda aimed at practical steps to build confidence and competence among staff, as well as some supervisors, was needed.

The end of the pandemic offers Erlestoke an opportunity to review and reinvent its approach and culture. Like all prisons it faces challenges, but the establishment also has some advantages. While Erlestoke is not the worst prison we have inspected it should be performing better. With effective leadership and a more engaged staff group, who maintain standards and have higher expectations of prisoners, it could quickly improve.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
October 2021

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

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