HMIP Inspections of Grendon

The prison was given an inspection in March 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:

HMP Grendon is a category B training prison in Buckinghamshire with a capacity of just over 200 adult male prisoners, all of whom are serving long determinate or life sentences. The buildings have not aged well and they are tired and dilapidated; it is one of only a few prisons that still does not have in-cell sanitation. At the time of our visit, the prison capacity had been reduced with the closure of a wing for fire and alarm upgrades. This, combined with fewer prisoners transferring in due to the pandemic, resulted in a population of 164 at the time of our visit.

Grendon is one of just two specialist prisons in England and Wales that function as democratic therapeutic communities (see Glossary of terms). All prisoners undertake accredited therapy to understand and address their offending behaviour and live in a collaborative setting with their peers and staff. Prisoners are given a say in the day-to-day running of the establishment to equip them with greater insight into their own behaviour and instil a greater sense of responsibility for others.

When restrictions to manage the spread of   COVID-19 were introduced in March 2020, as part of the HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)  national framework (see Glossary of terms), the curbing of regime activities, therapy groups and the democratic community structures, while necessary to keep prisoners and staff safe,  risked Grendon regressing from its specialist role into a mainstream prison for long-term offenders. This restricted regime could not fully support the well-embedded therapeutic ethos of Grendon and its role as a therapeutic community.

It was,  therefore,  positive to find that the governor and leaders had retained a focus throughout to continue limited therapeutic support for prisoners in a way that could be managed safely. Specialist prison officers,  alongside clinical and non-operational staff,  remained at work to support prisoners’ well-being in the absence of more formal weekly group work.

During summer 2020, successful planning allowed for progression to HMPPS stage three restrictions (the second highest level). Between July and November,  the prison offered key elements of the regime,  such as social visits, small group work and indoor PE. Despite the national lockdown in November 2020, the prison was able to continue to provide smaller group work delivery and indoor PE, as well as ‘ Purple Visits’ video calling to support prisoners’ family ties.

After the country was placed into a full lockdown,  the prison found itself back on stage four restrictions in early January 2021 and prison leaders had to put a hold on a move to stage two and the planned reintroduction of therapeutic group work, core creative support therapies and face-to-face education. Leaders adapted recovery plans (see Glossary of terms) to maintain safe prisoner cohort sizes that enabled increased time out of cell and the continuation of outdoor PE. Small group work initially had to cease, but had recommenced in early March 2021.

Partnership work between the prison and health care providers had been effective in reducing the potential spread of COVID-19 into the prison. Since restrictions were introduced in March 2020, just two prisoners had tested positive, both of whom were identified during their reception, and appropriate follow-up procedures had mitigated the spread of the virus into the prison community.

Despite the reduction of therapeutic work, levels of violence and self-harm remained very low. Nevertheless, we identified several issues that required immediate attention. For example, in our survey, more than one in five prisoners said that they felt unsafe. In addition, prisoners from several protected characteristic groups identified concerns,  and the experiences of some black and minority ethnic prisoners were poor. We noted that despite very good staff-prisoner relationships that were underpinned by a skilled staff group, the oversight of equality work was weak and formal equality meetings had ceased.

Although Grendon was not able to offer the structured therapy that formed the core of its offending behaviour work, other essential sentence management work, such as parole assessments and recategorisation reviews,  had continued throughout the period of restrictions.

Leaders and staff at Grendon had responded well to the operational challenges presented by the pandemic and the prison remained a safe and respectful environment. However, while the prisoner therapeutic communities had weathered the necessary restrictions reasonably well, some outcomes were beginning to deteriorate. The longer the restrictions persist, the more the therapeutic culture will be at risk and the longer it will take Grendon to recover.

It is important for HMPPS to support the governor and staff to implement a full recovery plan as soon as is practicable to enable a safe return to being a successful therapeutic community, particularly after the successful roll-out of the vaccine in the prison.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
March 2021

Return to Grendon

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