HMP Foston Hall, HMIP Inspections

The prison was given an inspection in October 2021, 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:


Foston Hall, in Derbyshire, is a women’s prison which, at the time of our inspection, was holding 272 residents, just short of its capacity of 296. In common with other women’s prisons, the establishment accommodates several categories of prisoner ranging from those recently remanded or at the beginning of their sentences, to women serving indeterminate sentences, including life, for very serious crimes. The prison itself comprises an old stately home surrounded by a mix of accommodation types that have been added over the years. Its rural setting and well-kept grounds provide an excellent external environment which supports individual well-being.

Foston Hall was last inspected in 2019 when we found outcomes to be reasonably good against all our tests of a healthy prison. This inspection, however, proved less positive and in common with many establishments emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, we found a deterioration in the regime and the provision of purposeful activity. Of greater concern, however, were the safety outcomes which we judged to be poor, our lowest assessment. This is a rare and unexpected finding in a women’s prison. While we accept that the issues in Foston Hall differ from those we might expect to see in an unsafe men’s prison, the evidence for this judgement was compelling. Neither the prison’s assessment of vulnerability, nor the support offered to newly arrived women were good enough. The unpredictability of the regime was contributing to tensions on the wings and, we suspected, increased violence, particularly against staff. Violence was now very high. The use of force had doubled since the last inspection and was the highest in the women’s estate. There was now far more frequent use of the poor segregation unit.

Recorded levels of self-harm were also the highest in the women’s estate and two women had taken their own lives since we last inspected. As an indicator of the level of distress, women were making 1,000 calls a month to the Samaritans. The prison had no strategy to reduce self-harm or improve the care for those in crisis. Recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following their investigation into deaths in custody had still to be addressed and the relatively few women who accounted for most of the incidents did not have meaningful care plans. The response to women in crisis was too reactive, uncaring and often punitive. This, taken with other safety metrics and observation, meant it was no surprise that in our survey nearly a third of women told us they felt unsafe.

It was clear that since our last visit the prison had experienced considerable instability in its leadership, with many structures and arrangements for supervising delivery and monitoring performance operating ineffectively, if at all. A new governor had been appointed a year ago and had begun to address these weaknesses, most notably by developing the effectiveness of middle managers and overseeing improvements in the work to support rehabilitation and release planning However, many deficiencies remained and despite the identification of a series of new priorities there was insufficient attention to the very obvious need to improve the safety of women or improve the quality and consistency of care they received.

Managers needed to be more visible to make sure the needs of women were being met by staff. We were told repeatedly by staff that morale was low and – although the prison was near to being fully staffed at the time of our visit – nearly a third of frontline officers were non-effective and non-deployable, which undermined work to improve the establishment.

Foston Hall needs to do much better. During our inspection there was a sense that decline had been arrested but we had less confidence about how improvements would be made going forward. It was clear to us that leaders needed to get staff back to work and determine how managers could better support staff to fulfil their duties and responsibilities. Leaders also needed to reconsider their priorities. One of those priorities must be new thinking followed by action, about how to make a women’s prison safer, including new strategies and greater confidence in meeting the needs of the most intractable and vulnerable women.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
November 2021

Return to Foston Hall

To read the full reports for the inspectors, follow the links below to the Ministy of Justice web site:

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