HMP Hewell, HMIP Inspections

The prison was inspected in August 2020. The inspection was a “Scrutiny Visit”, which is effectively a shortened version of a full inspection to make allowances for the disruption caused by Covid 19. The full reports can be read at the Ministry of Justice web site, just follow the links below. In their latest report the inspectors said: 

“This report discusses the findings of our scrutiny visit to HMP Hewell concerning the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hewell is a large category B local prison in Worcestershire, holding up to 900 adult male prisoners – 828 at the time of the visit. The prison had a high churn and continued to serve the courts and manage many short-term sentences throughout the national restrictions. At the time of our visit almost a quarter of prisoners had had their licences revoked, some of whom had been recalled for very short periods. This added to the challenges faced by the prison.

Our visit took place almost five months after restrictions had been imposed. At the start of restrictions, the senior team were properly focused on managing the risks associated with COVID-19 and on safeguarding the, often transient and short-term, population. Given the type of prison and the risks it faced, it was to their credit that only nine prisoners had tested positive for the virus and none at all since late April. Attention to social distancing remained a continuing challenge but overall the prison had managed the initial stages of the crisis well and had kept prisoners and staff safe.

In the early stages the prison had appointed a senior manager to lead on COVID-19. This role focused on delivering a communication strategy to both prisoners and staff and was broadly effective in ensuring that both groups understood the reasons for the restrictions and when they were to be eased.

It is difficult to comment on how Hewell was coping with the pressures and constraints imposed by a pandemic without reflecting on our last inspection (in June 2019) when we found that outcomes for prisoners were poor or not sufficiently good across our healthy prison assessments and significant work was required to address our concerns. The prison had started work on addressing our recommendations when the more immediate concerns of dealing with t he COVID-19 crisis had understandably interrupted many of their plans.

The prison had secured some funding to improve the conditions of cells and communal areas, and this work had continued since restrictions were imposed. The prison was clean and generally well maintained, although further work was required in some areas. Health care provision, including management of the response to the virus, was good overall.

There were, however, some concerns. Almost a third of prisoners felt unsafe, though the focus of these feelings had changed somewhat to reflect the impact of COVID-19, particularly the lack of consistent attention to social distancing. It was inevitable that violence would reduce when the regime was so significantly curtailed but, despite this, the number of incidents remained comparatively high, particularly against staff. At the time of our visit Hewell could not be considered a safe prison. The structures to identify and address violence and anti-social behaviour were not yet good enough to take appropriate and consistent action where needed, which was concerning.

Key work had stopped for the majority of prisoners. Meaningful contact was difficult with limited time, and most interactions that we observed were purely transactional to meet the basic needs of prisoners. However, in our survey, 70% of prisoners said they felt respected by staff and they told us of positive experiences. In contrast, 41% of prisoners said they had been bullied or victimised by staff and we were told of negative treatment and poor staff culture.

 The needs of many prisoners at Hewell were complex and more than two-thirds identified as having mental health concerns. The care for particularly vulnerable prisoners was good but many still felt that they were not supported at their time of need. There were weaknesses in the assessment, care in custody and teamwork ( ACCT) process which did not provide an individual package of care for many prisoners. More needed to be done to understand and address these important issues.

The severely curtailed regime at the start of the restrictions was understandable but almost five months had passed and there had been little progress in ensuring that prisoners had sufficient time out of cell or purposeful activity. This contributed to prisoners’ frustration and potentially to a deterioration in mental and emotional well-being. Prison leaders at both local and national level should take note of the fact that 70% of the prisoners we surveyed at Hewell reported problems with their mental health. One hour out of cell each day was simply not enough. The situation was often worse for prisoners on the margins, including the small number who were isolating. They could not have a shower regularly and sometimes had to wait for up to 14 days to do so.

The prison was not fully accessible for many prisoners with disabilities, including wheelchair users, who were routinely sent there. We found some prisoners with impaired mobility who had not had time in the fresh air for weeks and who experienced particular difficulty in accessing showers regularly . This was wholly unacceptable.

Efforts had been made to ensure that prisoners could maintain some contact with their families in the absence of visits. The implementation of in-cell telephones had been brought forward to April. These were greatly appreciated by prisoners, although confidentiality and privacy of calls in shared cells could not always be achieved. The reintroduction of visits had been a priority for the prison after nearly five months without any and this was also valued by prisoners. Social distancing from visitors was clearly challenging, but threats to impose closed visits if this was not adhered to were not managed sensitively or in a proportionate fashion. Purple Visits (see Glossary of terms) had started two weeks before our visit but uptake had been slow.

Offender management work was mostly limited to milestone events such as parole and home detention curfew. Prisoners, including those who were suitable for open conditions, were generally unable to make progress with their sentences. Arrangements for public protection were reasonable and targeted prisoners who posed the highest risk. An unintended consequence of access to in-cell telephones had been an unprecedented rise in call volumes, which exposed the fact that there were inadequate resources to monitor calls consistently where it was appropriate to do so. This was concerning. Release planning for the large number of prisoners affected was reasonable in terms of securing housing. Only five prisoners had been released since late March with no accommodation to go to.

A new governor had arrived five weeks before our visit and had made some small changes relatively quickly, including increasing the time out of cell from half an hour to an hour, opening a workshop for a small number of prisoners and introducing an outside exercise session led by PE staff for all prisoners once a week. Yet many workshops remained empty, classroom-based education was still not permitted and only 14% of prisoners were employed. At the time of our visit recovery plans were only slowly being submitted for approval with limited progress in their implementation.

While we are acutely aware of the need to ease restrictions in a safe and measured way, we felt that progress had been too slow and the restrictions in place were no longer proportionate. Additional improvements could be made by the governor but further progress was limited by rigid national procedures which prevented a creative leadership team from implementing credible and safe plans to improve the regime.

The governor was realistic about the significant challenges that lay ahead. He described an optimistic vision for Hewell of delivering a more person-centred, purposeful and rehabilitative regime within the constraints of running a busy local prison The initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis had been managed well, and the challenge now will be to secure, as quickly as possible, a recovery plan that will enable the prison to fulfil its role safely and decently.


Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
August 2020

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 report (PDF) (455.79 kB)Report on a scrutiny visit to HMP Hewell by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 4 and 11 – 12 August 2020
  •  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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