HMIP Report, Leyhill

The prison was given an inspection in February/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:

This report presents the findings from our scrutiny visit to HMP Leyhill to report on the conditions and treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leyhill is a category D open prison in Gloucestershire, holding almost 500 adult male prisoners in preparation for their release back into the community. With two-thirds convicted of sexual offences and the majority serving long sentences, half of which were indeterminate or for life, this is a complex population requiring careful management of risk.

The prison had responded well to the threat of transmission of the virus and there had been few confirmed COVID-19 cases to date. A small outbreak involving two staff in October had been successfully controlled and five prisoners, who had tested positive on arrival at the prison, had been effectively isolated. With half of the population aged over 50 and more than a third in high-vulnerability groups, these measures had limited potentially serious consequences from the pandemic. The self-contained shielding unit for 24 prisoners provided a safe and decent environment, and COVID-19-safe procedures were evident across the prison. Communal areas were clean and face coverings were worn both indoors and outdoors by staff and prisoners. Health care provision was good. However, we found that arrangements on the reverse cohort unit for those in quarantine carried some risk of cross-infection.

There were considerably fewer restrictions on daily life than we have seen in the closed prison estate. As before the pandemic, prisoners were unlocked for more than 11 hours a day and could access the open air during this time, with free movement around the site. Leaders had kept workshops open to provide a supervised, safe environment with more space to socially distance than on the residential units. Most prisoners who were able to work were employed,  which was impressive. The number of reported incidents of violence and self-harm remained low, and absconds from the prison had reduced since the start of national restrictions. Although there were reports of an increase in illicit drug use, steps were being taken to address this.

Despite this relatively positive picture, we received many negative comments from prisoners in response to our survey. Less than two-thirds said that staff treated them with respect and almost a third reported that staff bullied or victimised them. Black and minority ethnic prisoners reported even poorer perceptions of treatment. The personal officer scheme, which had been suspended at the start of the pandemic, had been too slow to restart. The lack of release on temporary licence was also a source of much frustration. Although leaders had rightly taken a cautious approach,  given the vulnerability of the prison population to the virus, only three prisoners were in essential work placements outside the prison at the time of our visit. Employer links were far too limited and, even before the start of the pandemic, were too few to fulfil the resettlement purpose of an open prison.

The lack of progression opportunities had prevented some prisoners from demonstrating their suitability for release to the parole board. Over half of the parole hearings held in 2020 had been deferred. There were not enough offender supervisors in post and contact with prisoners was inconsistent. However, the pathways enhanced resettlement service (PERS) provided good support for the most complex prisoners,  to help them manage in open conditions.

Poor management oversight of public protection arrangements for those prisoners approaching release was a serious concern. The planning was not sufficiently robust or timely, particularly for those convicted of sexual offences. About half of prisoners went to approved premises owing to risk concerns, but a lack of places in such accommodation meant that some prisoners waited months for release after being granted parole. Extraordinarily, one prisoner with disabilities was still being held more than a year beyond the date that his release had been approved.

In summary, the prison had managed well in shielding its ageing population from the virus. It had remained safe and continued to provide a decent daily regime. However, prison leaders had been too  slow to address concerns, including deteriorating staff–prisoner relationships, poor perceptions of treatment among those from a black and minority ethnic background and frustration at the lack of progression opportunities during the pandemic. The management of public protection arrangements for the release of some high-risk prisoners also needed urgently to improve.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
March 2021

Return to Leyhill

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