HMIP Reports, HMP Isle of Wight

The prison was given an inspection in summer 2015 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:

“The prisons on the Isle of Wight have undergone substantial change over the years. For a long time there were three adjacent prisons in the centre of the island: HMP Parkhurst, which had a notorious reputation as a high security prison, HMP Albany and HMP Camp Hill. In 2009 the three prisons merged to become HMP Isle of Wight, holding a mix of sex offenders and mainstream prisoners; and in 2013 the old Camp Hill site closed. HMP Isle of Wight is now a category B training prison holding just over 1,000 men, almost all of whom are now sex offenders. Most of the men held at the time of this inspection were serving long sentences for serious offences; almost a third were serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection. Many of these men were elderly and sometimes frail. Twenty per cent were over sixty and the oldest man held was 83. The prison also had a very small mainstream remand function serving local courts on the island.

The mix of physically and mentally vulnerable men and serious offenders that the prison now held made the important task of reducing the risk of reoffending while holding the men safely an unusually complex one. Reception arrangements were generally good. New arrivals were normally housed on a first night and induction wing on the Albany site but a serious fire a few weeks before the inspection had disrupted these arrangements – without some brave action by staff, the consequences could have been much worse.

There were few violent incidents but more prisoners told us they had been victimised by other prisoners and staff than in comparable prisons, and prisoners reported unusually high levels of violent and sexual assaults. Faced with a population that generally presented as compliant, we were not assured that all staff were sufficiently aware of the risks that some men posed. The prison was addressing the development of formal adult safeguarding arrangements with the local authority but these needed to be strengthened. The number of men at risk of suicide or self-harm was higher than in similar prisons but their care was generally good.

Security was proportionate overall, there was little evidence of illegal drug use and substance misuse services for those who required them were good. Use of segregation was low with good efforts to quickly reintegrate the men held. Although use of force and special accommodation was relatively high, a small number of very challenging prisoners accounted for a large proportion of the incidents involved.

The external areas of the prison and most individual cells were in good condition. Cells in Albany used the ‘night san’ system where prisoners used a call bell system at night – they queued to be let out of their cells to use the toilet. In other prisons where this system is used it often works poorly and prisons are reduced to using a bucket in their cell; here the system worked efficiently and prisoners generally told us they preferred it to an unscreened toilet in their cells. Relationships between prisoners and staff were good and there was an unusually effective personal officer system. However, the applications system was not working effectively and this created unnecessary pressure on the complaints system. Health services were good and the inpatient unit provided compassionate care to men with complex needs, and prisoners with palliative and end of life needs received excellent care.

The needs of the prison’s elderly and disabled population were an important focus for its work on diversity and equality issues. One wing on Albany had been converted into an assisted living unit and prisoner ‘buddies’ provided assistance to prisoners who needed help with everyday tasks. However, the prison was unable to adequately meet the needs of all the men with disabilities and these needs were likely to become greater as the population in the prison aged and as their long sentences progressed. The management of diversity and equality issues overall was good. Prisoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and Muslim prisoners reported more positively than at the last inspection and now similarly to the rest of the prison population – albeit with a small number of important differences. In our survey, 9% of the men told us they were gay or bisexual and they were positive about the support they received, although more were concerned about their safety than other prisoners. The prison held 11 transgender prisoners and their needs were well met. The prison also held more than 100 foreign national prisoners and not enough was done to understand and meet their needs. Faith provision was reasonably good and effective prisoner faith forums enabled consultation and positive discussion between prisoners of different faiths and with staff.

Most prisoners had a good amount of time out of their cells and there were enough activity places to meet the needs of the population. New workshops and contracts had been introduced and the prison had adapted the activities available to meet the needs of older prisoners and those with disabilities. Some work was very mundane and there was not enough accredited vocational training.

The learning and skills provider – Milton Keynes College – was addressing the low achievement rates in functional skills such as English and maths among prisoners at Parkhurst. In view of the population held and the role of the prison, offender management was not sufficiently central to its work. There was a large OASys (a risk assessment and sentence planning tool) backlog. Some prisoners, including some who had been in the prison since 2011, had no OASys assessment at all, and half of the sample we reviewed were not up to date. Some prisoners’ sentence plan objectives were not achievable. Offender supervisors were capable but had too little contact with the prisoners they were responsible for; this was a particular problem for the almost 300 indeterminate sentence prisoners for whom there was no specific provision. Public protection arrangements, however, were generally sound.

Processes to address the behaviour of men who denied their offences were not sufficiently effective or individualised. ‘Denial’ could take a number of forms, from outright denial of the offence, to partial admission, to refusing to accept the seriousness of the harm done to victims. These attitudes might make it impossible for prisoners to usefully take part in sex offender treatment programmes. The prison’s standard approach to this was to keep such men on the ‘basic’ level of the incentives and earned privileges scheme with a very limited regime, sometimes for a very long time. In some cases this had had a positive motivational effect and men had engaged appropriately with programmes. However, weaknesses in offender management processes meant that this approach was sometimes not applied consistently or appropriately. For example, the programme was not always suitable or it was not the right time for the prisoner to take part in it. There were limited attempts to motivate prisoners in other more positive ways to address their offending behaviour. The Coping and Changing in prison programme (COaCH) had been introduced for men in denial and one pilot course for nine men had been completed. Without more effective interventions, some prisoners got closer to their release dates with little effective work done to change their behaviour.

Few prisoners were released from the Isle of Wight itself and support for the small number of local remand prisoners was limited. Support for prisoners to maintain contact with their families, where this was appropriate, was the most pressing practical resettlement issue. The location of the prison made visits difficult and although visits arrangements were generally reasonable, some started late. It was inappropriate that remand prisoners could not wear their own clothes for visits. There was little else done to promote healthy family ties.

HMP Isle of Wight held a complex sex offender population, most of whom had been convicted of serious offences but who were now themselves often vulnerable because of age or disability. For the most part the prison dealt with this complex task professionally, but further work was required to develop a more sophisticated approach to managing and reducing the risks these men posed, both within the prison and, importantly, when they were eventually released.


Nick Hardwick August 2015

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons”

Return to Isle of Wight

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

  • HMP Isle of Wight (PDF, 1.07 MB), Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Isle of Wight (26 – 27 May, 8 – 12 June 2015)
  • HMP Isle of Wight, Announced full follow-up inspection of HMP Isle of Wight (21 May – 1 June 2012)
  • HMP Isle of Wight, Announced inspection of HMP Isle of Wight (4–15 October 2010)
  • HMP Albany, Announced inspection of HMP Albany (12-16 November 2007)