The prison was given an inspection in June 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 & YOI Low Newton is a woman’s local and resettlement prison that services the courts across a large swathe of northern England. At inspection, it held 229 women with 45 unsentenced and the rest sentenced to anything from a few months to life. The excellent relationships between staff and the women, many of whom have complex needs, have helped to carry this prison through the last, difficult year.
The many examples of notable positive practice that we highlight in this report show the effort that staff members make to provide innovative support for the many vulnerable women, some of whom present a risk to themselves or to the public. The comfortable Achieving Best Evidence Suite was created to allow women, who have been victims of crime, to give evidence in a safe environment without needing to go out to the police station, and the recently decorated adjudications room was a contrast to the spartan environments that we usually see. Video calling had been expanded well beyond the limits of Purple Visits to mean that families living in different households were able to come together on screen. The chaplaincy was exceptional even when compared to the many good examples we see and family support was also excellent with a strong team helping women to maintain relationships at every stage of their sentence.
Given these many impressive initiatives, it was disappointing that the Listener scheme had been allowed to wither at a time when women needed peer support more than ever. There was a similar anomaly with clothing, where women were able to buy new clothes from the prison shop or choose from an extensive second hand range, while a ban on receiving parcels from home was a source of much frustration, particularly as the reasons for this policy were not clear to the women.
Levels of self-harm were lower than at most similar prisons and there was a very good range of support available to help women manage their feelings and avoid potential crisis.
It was very concerning to see that the prison is regularly being used as a ‘place of safety’ for women with acute mental health difficulties. These women should not be kept in prison where, out of sight, they exist in an environment that does not begin to address their needs. Health care and prison staff do their best to support women who are in profound distress, but they do not have the training, skills or resources to provide for patients who are so unwell. The unintended consequence of the well-intentioned policy designed to prevent seriously mentally ill women from languishing in police cells, has led to the problem being passed onto prisons, which are themselves an equally unsuitable environment. These women should be in hospital where they can be treated, not left in prison where they put an additional burden on already stretched resources. Women attending the health care department for their GP appointments could hear the constant screaming of one of the women.
Despite the many examples of good practice we saw at the prison, women continue to be locked in their cells for far too long and leaders must urgently begin to extend significantly the amount of time women are unlocked. There was very limited education provision, meaning that women who need to improve their basic learning, earn qualifications and acquire the skills that will help them to get work when they are released are not getting the help that they need to live safe, crime-free lives.
There is much that the team at Low Newton can be rightly proud of, and coherent planning from leaders with clear timescales and targets will help this prison to build on its many successes and provide more effectively for the oftentroubled women in its care.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
To read the full reports, go to the Ministry of Justice site or follow the links below:
- Inspection report (5 MB),Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Low Newton by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (2-18 June 2021)
- HMP & YOI Low Newton, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Low Newton (12–22 February 2018)
- HMP & YOI Low Newton, Report on an unannounced inspection of HMP & YOI Low Newton (29 September – 10 October 2014).
- HMP Low Newton, Announced inspection of HMP Low Newton (31 October – 4 November 2011)
- HMP/YOI Low Newton, Unannounced short follow-up inspection of HMP/YOI Low Newton (20-23 April 2009)