HMP Hewell, HMIP Inspections

The prison was last subjected to a full inspection in summer 2019. In their report the inspectors said.

 HMP Hewell is, in reality, two prisons, situated in Worcestershire, with entirely different functions, presenting a complex environment both to manage and to inspect. The larger establishment is a male category B local prison, quite modern in construction, holding some 870 prisoners at the time of this inspection. About half a mile away, set in many acres of park and farmland, and situated within a late 19th century Grade II listed country house, is a men’s open prison holding around 200 prisoners. The prisons were last inspected in the summer of 2016. The establishments have traditionally been inspected together, but with separate grades being awarded in each of our healthy prison tests.

On this occasion there was a marked decline at both the closed and open sites, with safety and purposeful activity being assessed as poor at the closed site. At the open site we found that, extraordinarily for an open prison, it was poor in both purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning. At this inspection, of the eight scores awarded across the two sites, four were at our lowest level of ‘poor’.

In the closed site we found that many prisoners felt unsafe, even during the course of the inspection itself. It was disappointing that a main recommendation we made at the last inspection about how prisoners should be received into the prison had not been achieved, and this no doubt contributed to the very high numbers of prisoners telling us they felt unsafe on their first night at the closed site. Levels of violence were broadly the same as at similar prisons. In our survey, 67% of prisoners told us it was easy to obtain illicit drugs, and just under a quarter said they had acquired a drug habit in the prison, although the mandatory drug testing positive rate had fallen in recent times. However, self-harm had doubled since the last inspection, the adjudication system was failing, and there were no effective incentives for prisoners to behave well. Since the last inspection there had been two self-inflicted deaths, and recommendations from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman had not been fully implemented. The award of our lowest grade of ‘poor’ for safety was not a consequence so much of the actual level of violence, but more of a reflection of a range of failures to provide an environment in which prisoners could feel safe, where victims of violence would be supported, where perpetrators would be challenged and poor behaviour would lead to consistent and effective sanctions. Nevertheless, this is the third consecutive occasion on which the closed site has been poor in safety, and therefore a cause of great concern.

Many prisoners said they were treated respectfully by staff, but it was also the case that far too much low-level misbehaviour was going unchallenged by staff. We saw examples of poor and antisocial behaviour by prisoners during this inspection, and it was clear that some staff felt unable to deal with this effectively. Prisoners were also frustrated by needless failures to carry out basic processes such as responding properly and promptly to complaints and applications. Our colleagues from Ofsted found that the provision of education, skills and work was inadequate. Attendance at activities was poor, and those who did not attend were often locked in their cells for up to 22 hours a day. We found that 61% of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day, an extremely high figure. In terms of rehabilitation and release planning, its strategic management was weak and this undoubtedly contributed to the drop in performance since the last inspection.

So far as the open site at Hewell Grange was concerned, we found a very unusual, and for an open prison, totally unacceptable mixture of outcomes. According to the prison’s data the site appeared to be safe, with no reported violence in the six months prior to the inspection. However, living conditions were the worst I have seen in this type of establishment. The prisoners lived in dormitories spread around all three floors of the house. Within these dormitories each prisoner had a wooden cubicle made of thin wood, about one and a half metres in height. The dormitories were crowded, and in many cases the cubicles were untidy, dirty and there was a great deal of food waste, dirty clothing and other rubbish. In one room I saw a plaster wall that was so damp that where a prisoner had struck it with his fist, deep indentations had been left. Some of the lavatories and showers were filthy, and as a result of a washing up area being closed for refurbishment, cookery utensils and cutlery had to be washed in bathrooms. There are clearly constraints as to what can be done to improve the conditions, given the listed status of the building. There will need to be significant investment to restore the building to anything like acceptable conditions. In the meantime, I can only describe it as squalid, demeaning and depressing.

The poor living conditions were compounded by the fact that the establishment was failing in its core purpose as an open prison. This report sets out in detail how a wide range of weaknesses and failings meant that it was not properly preparing prisoners for their release. This was particularly concerning as a significant number of prisoners were assessed as presenting a high risk of harm.

In light of the very steep decline in performance at both sites since the last inspection, and in particular the fact that the closed site was graded as poor for safety for the third time, I gave very serious consideration as to whether I should invoke the Urgent Notification process, requiring the Secretary of State to produce an action plan for improvement within 28 days. It would have been very easy to justify doing so. However, the process is not intended to be triggered as an automatic response to poor grades, but by the judgement of the Chief Inspector. In this case I took full account of the poor grades, the sharp decline in performance, the response to past inspections, the nature of the failings and the capacity of the prison to improve.

In this case, my judgement not to invoke the process was influenced by several factors. I believe the UN process is best reserved for when there is no other obvious or feasible solution, when the intervention of the Secretary of State is needed to bring about some strategic or significant organisational change. This might, for instance, include major investment decisions, reducing the number of prisoners held in a jail, increasing the number of staff or changing the management. In the case of Hewell, it was my view that none of these interventions were necessary to bring about improvements. With the exception of the living conditions at the open site, the fabric of the buildings was reasonable. There were no staff shortages, and a new Governor had only recently been appointed. We considered the changes that were needed to bring about improvement were all within the gift of the prison itself. The question for me was whether they actually had the capacity and capability to do so.

In April this year the prison had published its own Business Plan, which included specific actions that matched many of HMI Prisons’ concerns at this inspection, had timeframes for completion of actions and named individuals held accountable for delivery. I came to the view that this plan, if amended in light of our findings on this inspection and vigorously implemented, was the most likely route to delivering the necessary improvements. I was also influenced by the fact that the new Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) give the Inspectorate the ability to return and assess progress much sooner than would have previously been the case.

In reaching my decision I also took account of the fact that the prison had already been in ‘special measures’ for some considerable time. I looked very carefully at the Special Measures Action Summary and came to the conclusion that it was highly unlikely to achieve the required improvements. It had not done so to date, and the prison leadership were sceptical that it ever would. I believe that in the case of HMP Hewell, another round of external interventions brought about by an Urgent Notification would, in all probability, achieve little more than the failed special measures. In saying this I am not in any way equating special measures with Urgent Notifications. We have seen elsewhere that the impact of Urgent Notifications has been to drive major improvement and change, something that special measures have repeatedly failed to do. At Hewell, there was no doubt that swift and effective management action was required to ensure that prisoners were no longer left angry and frustrated by failures to deal with basic day-to-day issues. But these issues were, in my judgement, largely local issues that needed local solutions.

In summary, this was a very worrying inspection. The prison leadership and regional HM Prison and Probation leadership were left fully aware of what needed to be done, and I trust that they started to address our findings immediately following the end of the inspection. We shall have the opportunity to scrutinise their progress at the IRP that will follow within a matter of months. I shall also give careful consideration as to whether the open site at Hewell, failing so badly in its core purpose, warrants a separate, dedicated full inspection.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM                             July 2019                                                HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

To read the full report got to the Ministry of Justice web site or follow the links below:

This section contains the reports for Hewell from 2009 until present

  •  HMP Hewell (962.00 kB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Hewell (3 – 14 June 2019)
  • HMP Hewell (919.04 kB), Report on an announced inspection of HMP Hewell (22 August-9 September 2016)
  • HMP Hewell, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Hewell (7 – 18 July 2014)
  • HMP Hewell, Unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP Hewell (5–9 November 2012)
  • HMP Hewell, Announced inspection of HMP Hewell (2-13 November 2009)

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